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

Latest official estimates reveal the scale of the longer-term health problems caused by coronavirus

Shaun Lintern
Health Correspondent
Thursday 01 April 2021 16:33 BST
First steps: The beachfront at Bournemouth, Dorset, this week as lockdown eases
First steps: The beachfront at Bournemouth, Dorset, this week as lockdown eases (PA)

More than a million people in Britain 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.

The ONS says 1.1 million have reported symptoms lasting beyond four weeks that were not explained by anything else.

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

The ONS found the symptoms were affecting 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 infection in the previous three months but 70,000 said it was over a year since infection.

The problems were greater in those aged between 35 and 69, women and those living in more-deprived areas. Those more likely to be affected include health and social care workers and those with pre-existing conditions, although the ONS said it was unclear whether this was due to the risk of infection rather than their susceptibility to 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, 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 were 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 with 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 recent studies showing the severity of the infection did not predict how badly people would suffer.

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. She said: “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.

“The fact that ONS used a control group and found an eight-fold difference 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 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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