Up to 2 million people may have had long Covid
The latest findings from the REACT-2 studies show over a third of people who had Covid-19 reported symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks.
This amounts to 5.8 per cent of the whole study population, with 2 per cent of people reporting severe symptoms. The study also shows that the prevalence of long Covid increases with age and is higher among women.
The study is based on self-reported data from 508,707 adults aged 18 and above who took part in REACT-2 rounds 3 to 5, carried out between September 2020 and February 2021. REACT-2 is one of the largest studies of the virus funded by the government.
Around a fifth of those surveyed reported having had a Covid-19 symptom previously, with over a third reporting persistent symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks. Around a tenth of those with symptoms said they lasted at least 12 weeks and were severe.
The findings suggest prevalence of persistent symptoms increases with age, with a 3.5 per cent increase in likelihood in each decade of life. It shows long Covid is higher among women, people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, live in deprived areas, or had been admitted to hospital. Persistent Covid-19 symptoms were lower in people of Asian ethnicity.
To help people suffering with the long-term effects of the virus, the NHS in England has opened over 80 long Covid assessment services across England. NHS England also recently published a £100 million plan to expand support.
Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial, said: “Our findings do paint a concerning picture of the longer-term health consequences of Covid-19, which need to be accounted for in policy and planning.
“People with persistent symptoms at 12 weeks fell into two broad groups. In the first, the most common symptom was tiredness and muscle aches. In the second, the most common symptoms were shortness of breath affecting normal activities, tightness in chest, and chest pain, with more people reporting that they had severe symptoms.”