Long Covid: More than 1 million experiencing symptoms in UK, official data shows

More than one million people in the UK are suffering from signs of Long Covid, the Office for National Statistics has said.

This is a significant increase in previous estimates of persistent and debilitating symptoms and follows the January surge in coronavirus infections across the UK.

The ONS said a total of 1.1 million people in the UK reported experiencing Long Covid symptoms lasting beyond four weeks after infection with Covid-19 that were not explained any something else.

Long Covid can include chronic fatigue, shortness of breath, so called ‘brain fog’ as well as serious organ damage to the kidneys, heart and lungs.

The ONS found the symptoms were impacting on the day-to-day lives of 674,000 people, with almost 200,000 people reporting their ability to carry out normal activities had been severely limited.

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Of those reporting symptoms, almost 700,000 reported having a Covid infection in the previous three months, but 70,000 said it was over a year since their infection.

The problems were greater in those aged between 35 and 69-years-old, women and those living in more deprived areas. Also more likely to be affected include those working in health and social care and those with pre-existing conditions, although the ONS said it was unclear whether this was due to the risk of infection rather than the susceptibility of experiencing Long Covid.

The ONS said: “These estimates provide a measure of the prevalence of self-reported Long Covid across the whole population, and reflect both the risk of being infected with coronavirus and the risk of developing Long Covid following infection.”

Examining a sample of 20,000 study participants who tested positive for Covid-19 between 26 April last year and 6 March 2021, 13.7 per cent continued to experience symptoms for at least 12 weeks.

This was eight times higher than in a control group of participants who are unlikely to have had Covid-19.

Of study participants who tested positive for the virus, 14.7 per cent of women reported symptoms at 12 weeks compared to 12.7 per cent of men. This was also highest among those aged 25 to 34.

The data underlines the seriousness of the longer term illness affecting many of those infected with the virus, with recent studies showing the severity of the infection did not predict how badly people would suffer with Long Covid.

One study of hospital patients found seven in 10 were still suffering symptoms months after leaving hospital. A review of evidence by the National Institute for Health Research also found women were more likely to be affected.

Dr Elaine Maxwell, who led the NIHR review, said the ONS data was consistent with other reviews adding: “The key findings for me are not the prevalence at 12 weeks but the 70,000 at one year- a new finding internationally and the relapsing nature confounding cross sectional surveys which goes a long way to explaining the wide range of estimates at 12 weeks.

“Given community testing was suspended for most of last year we can’t just ignore a million people so self-reporting is the only option. The fact that ONS used a control group and found an 8 fold increase shows there is something happening even if the precise prevalence is unclear.”

Ben Humberstone. head of health and life events at the ONS said: “The Office for National Statistics estimates that over a million people in the UK were reporting symptoms associated with long Covid at the beginning of March 2021, with over two-thirds of these individuals having had (or suspecting they had) Covid-19 at least 12 weeks earlier.

“An estimated 674,000 people reported that their symptoms have negatively impacted on their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities. People who tested positive for Covid-19 are around eight times more likely to suffer prolonged symptoms than observed in the general population.”

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