Over two million people in England could have long COVID

Male and Female Doctors Discussing in ICU

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A study of over half a million adults in England found that one in 20 had persistent COVID-19 symptoms.

This could mean that over two million people in England could have long COVID.

The findings come from the Real-time Assessment of Community Transmission (REACT) study, led by Imperial College.

Better understanding of long COVID needed

Professor Paul Elliot from Imperial College London’s School of Public Health, 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.

Long COVID is still poorly understood but we hope through our research that we can contribute to better identification and management of this condition, which our data and others’ suggest may ultimately affect millions of people in the UK alone.

Who is most at risk of long COVID?

According to the REACT team, those with a higher risk of persistent symptoms are:

  • women
  • people who smoke, are overweight or obese
  • people who live in deprived areas
  • those who had been admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

The study also found that Asian people had a lower risk, and increasing age was also linked to persistent symptoms.

Two types of long COVID

The study showed that people with symptoms at 12 weeks fell into two groups.

The first group experienced more severe and respiratory symptoms like:

  • shortness of breath
  • tight chest
  • chest pain.

The second group reported tiredness, often with muscle aches and difficulty sleeping.

A significant public health issue

Professor Helen Ward from Imperial College London, said:

Our research shows that many people who have had COVID-19 will have lasting symptoms and for some these may have a big impact on their quality of life.

Given the number of infections in England this represents a significant public health issue that needs to be urgently addressed through appropriate support and treatment.

Tackling long COVID

The REACT programme has been expanded to study long COVID (Imperial) and was awarded £5.5 million by the NIHR and UKRI. This was to help understand and address the longer-term effects of COVID-19 on physical and mental health.

Read more about UKRI and NIHR funding a series of projects focused on long COVID.

Read more about the immune system and long COVID.

Last updated: 16 February 2024

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