Almost a million people in the UK report that long Covid is negatively affecting their daily lives, as levels of the condition climb to a record high.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates 1.52 million people were likely to be experiencing symptoms of long Covid in the four weeks to January 31, up 15% from 1.33 million a month earlier.
This includes 685,000 people who first had Covid-19, or suspected they had the virus, at least one year ago.
How many people suffer from long Covid?
Long Covid symptoms are estimated to be adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 989,000 people – around two-thirds of those with self-reported long Covid – with 281,000 (18%) reporting that their ability to undertake day-to-day activities has been “limited a lot”, the ONS said.
The ONS figures are based on self-reported long Covid from a representative sample of people in private households in the four weeks to January 31.
Self-reported long Covid is defined as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after a first suspected coronavirus infection that could not be explained by something else.
What are the most common symptoms of long Covd?
Fatigue continues to be the most common symptom (experienced by 51% of those with self-reported long Covid), followed by shortness of breath (35%), loss of smell (34%) and then loss of taste and difficulty concentrating (both at 25%).
Of the 1.52 million, 1.1 million (71%) first had coronavirus – or suspected they had it – at least 12 weeks previously, while 685,000 (45%) first had Covid at least a year earlier.
Who is most at risk of long Covid?
The ONS said prevalence of self-reported long Covid was greatest in people aged 35 to 49, females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in teaching and education, social care or healthcare, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability.
A study published recently in the medical journal Cell identified four common factors that can be seen in the early stages of coronavirus infections.
Researchers said these factors are often found in people who later develop long-lasting Covid-19 symptoms, even if the infection was mild.
The four factors thought to increase the likelihood of developing long Covid are:
- The viral load in a person’s blood
- The presence of certain autoantibodies (antibodies that recognise parts of our own body) which are often used to combat the virus and its symptoms
- The reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus, which has been known to infect people at a young age
- The patient has Type 2 diabetes
Long Covid has been found to be more debilitating in cases where a person has suffered serious inflammation.
Andrew Catchpole, virologist and chief scientific officer at hVIVO, said he does not expect a higher incidence of long Covid cases in proportion to infections with Omicron.
He told Healthline: “While Omicron is more infectious, infectivity is not linked to an increased likelihood of long Covid. It is more linked to severity.
“[As] on average, Omicron infections are less severe than what was seen with other variants or the original strain, we would expect the proportion of long Covid cases to be lower with Omicron.”
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