Over 2 million adults in England may have had long COVID

June 28, 2021

A study of over half a million adults in England found that one in 20 had persistent COVID-19 symptoms, according to a news release from Imperial College London.

The research looked at survey data from the Imperial College London-led REACT-2 study, collected from random samples of the population between September 2020 and February 2021. Nearly 27,000 (around 6%) reported experiencing at least one of 29 symptoms linked with COVID-19 for 12 weeks or more.

These figures are based on reports from the people (almost one in five) who reported having had COVID-19, either suspected or confirmed by PCR test, one-third of whom reported persistent symptoms at 12 weeks. This could mean that more than two million people in England may have been affected by these persistent symptoms after COVID-19.

Women, people who smoked, were overweight or obese, lived in deprived areas, or had been admitted to a hospital, all had a higher risk of persistent symptoms, while Asian people had a lower risk. Increasing age was also linked with having persistent symptoms, with the risk rising by 3.5% with each decade of life.

The proportion of people with symptoms rapidly declined in the first four weeks, followed by a small drop by 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, there was little change up to 150 days (5 months) of follow-up.

Professor Paul Elliott, MBBS, PhD, FMedSci, Director of the REACT Program from Imperial’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,” he added.

People with symptoms at 12 weeks fell into one of two groups based on the symptoms they were experiencing. One group was characterized by respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath, tight chest and chest pain, and in this group more people had reported severe COVID-19 symptoms. In the other group the predominant symptoms were tiredness often with muscle aches, and difficulty sleeping.

The REACT-2 program, funded by the Department of Health and Social Care, is tracking past coronavirus infections in England. Every 2-4 months random samples of the population are invited to participate and almost 200,000 adults take part, who complete a questionnaire and finger-prick test which looks for coronavirus antibodies.

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