Almost 400,000 people in the UK say they have been suffering from long-Covid for more than a year, data suggested today.
Around 1.46 per cent of the population claim they’ve been left plagued by persistent symptoms after catching the coronavirus.
The Office for National Statistics, which carried out the major poll, said this equated to around 945,000 people.
Among those, 40 per cent say they’ve been left battling symptoms such as tiredness and muscle pain for at least 12 months.
There is no universally agreed definition of long-Covid — but the ONS defines it as symptoms people suffer from for more than four weeks after they caught the virus that could not be explained by something else.
The poll data comes after a study this week found the poorly-understood condition is ‘rare’ in children.
Meanwhile, F1 driver Lewis Hamilton fears he may be suffering long Covid after he came close to collapsing at the end of the Hungarian Grand Prix.
Fatigue was the most common symptom, affecting an estimated 535,000 people, followed by shortness of breath striking 397,000 and muscle ache hitting 309,000, according to the Office for National Statistics
The ONS surveyed 313,602 people in the four weeks up to July 4.
Of those who had long Covid, 88.4 per cent had symptoms for more than 12 weeks – equating to an estimated 834,000 people in the UK.
Some 64.7 per cent said their symptoms hampered their daily activities.
And around one in five people reported that their ability to engaged in daily activities had been ‘limited a lot’.
Tiredness was the most commonly reported symptom, with the ONS calculating that 528,000 Brits were suffering from it.
Shortness of breath (388,000), muscle ache (296,000) and a loss of smell (285,000) were the next complained about symptoms.
WHAT ARE THE LONG-TERM SYMPTOMS OF COVID-19?
Most coronavirus patients will recover within a fortnight, suffering a fever, cough and losing their sense of smell or taste for several days.
However, evidence is beginning to show that the tell-tale symptoms of the virus can persist for weeks on end in ‘long haulers’ — the term for patients plagued by lasting complications.
Data from the Covid Symptom Study app, by King’s College London and health company Zoe, suggests one in ten people may still have symptoms after three weeks, and some may suffer for months.
Long term symptoms include:
- Chronic tiredness
- Raised heart rate
- Loss of taste/smell
- Kidney disease
- Mobility issues
- Muscle pains
For those with more severe disease, Italian researchers who tracked 143 people who had been hospitalised with the disease found almost 90 per cent still had symptoms including fatigue two months after first falling unwell.
The most common complaints were fatigue, a shortness of breath and joint pain – all of which were reported during their battle with the illness.
Self-reported long-Covid was highest in people aged between 35 and 69, with 2 per cent of that group estimated to have the condition.
Women, people living in deprived areas, healthcare workers and those with underlying conditions were also more likely to report ongoing Covid symptoms.
But the number of people the ONS thinks are suffering from the condition is down slightly from its estimate of 962,000 one month earlier.
Just 8.1 per cent of people who report having long-Covid were hospitalised with the virus, the ONS found.
And 41.4 per cent had not contacted the NHS when they were infected, suggesting the condition also affects those who had mild symptoms.
The survey also identified different prevalence levels across the country, with as many as 1.9 per cent of people in the North West reporting to have long-Covid, compared to 1.2 in the South East.
However, the ONS findings could over exaggerate how many people actually have the condition, as it relies on people self-reporting symptoms rather than being diagnosed.
A survey by researchers at Kings College London, which was published this week, found less than two per cent of children who became ill with the virus suffered persistent symptoms that lasted at least eight weeks.
The majority recovered within a week and many children who catch Covid ‘don’t show any symptoms at all’, they found.
Meanwhile, racing driver Lewis Hamilton revealed this week that he has suspected long-Covid after ‘fighting all year’ with his health after catching the virus in December.
He said: ‘I haven’t spoken to anyone particularly about it but I think it is lingering,’ he said.
‘I remember the effects when I had it. The training has been different since then and the levels of fatigue you get are different and it’s a real challenge.’
Dr Stuart Ritchie, a lecturer at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, told MailOnline: ‘When you see numbers like this I think you should always be asking what the person means by ‘long-Covid’.
‘Unfortunately at the moment there are an awful lot of different definitions, though the cases you hear about a lot in the media are often the most extreme ones, where people suffer very debilitating and life-changing symptoms.
‘It’s likely that a lot of the cases in that headline number are far milder – indeed, only around 20 per cent of the people in the ONS survey said their long-Covid symptoms had limited their daily activities by ‘a lot’.
‘There have been some confusing numbers in past research where substantial proportions of people who report long-Covid symptoms can’t prove they’ve ever had Covid itself.
‘That’s not to say they’re making it up – the symptoms are likely real.
‘And lots of people could have had Covid and missed getting a test, especially if they had it early in the pandemic.
‘But it means that researchers need to do a lot more to get to the bottom of who’s having symptoms that are specifically caused by having had a previous Covid infection, and who might be suffering from problems that stem from another cause.’
He added that questions around long-Covid should not make anyone less concerned about getting a vaccine, because symptomatic Covid is ‘unpleasant and dangerous enough, leaving aside long-term consequences’.
Professor Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics at the Open University, said it’s possible that the some people might report having long-Covid but are mistaking their symptoms as something else, but there are still high levels of the condition.
He said: ‘That’s possible as well, though all the people who report symptoms for this study did also report that they had Covid previously, and though there’s no way to tell how common it might be that the symptoms aren’t a consequence of Covid.
‘But I’d argue that, to a considerable extent, those criticisms are red herrings anyway. These results show quite major levels of illness, discomfort, and to some extent disability, that were mostly not there before the pandemic.
‘Even if in some cases they were not directly caused by the effects of the virus on bodily systems, the symptoms still need to be dealt with, and that isn’t yet happening on anything like a comprehensive enough scale, as far as I can tell.’
He said the ONS figures have been criticised for being self-reported, but this is the only way to get a ‘good, complete estimate’ because there is a lack of support from health services.
Professor McConway said the figures ‘continue to be alarmingly high’.
He added: ‘We do need to understand more about how a Covid infection can lead to these long-term symptoms, and even whether they do not stem directly from Covid in some cases.
‘But, before we can get to the bottom of those questions, we do already urgently need services to help the people who are suffering from these long-term conditions and symptoms, however they arose, and that needs planning and considerable resources.’
Dr David Strain, a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, warned the ONS findings ‘may be an underestimate’ of the true figures.
He said: ‘The ONS is dependent on self reported symptoms and people with more subtle deficits are unlikely to report problems.
‘For example, if Covid has caused your brain to age 10-15 years, but you still have a young fit brain you may not notice there is a problem until you notice that your peers are progressing faster than you.
‘The figures from Belgium suggest 55 per cent of people who were not hospitalised but tested positive have residual symptoms at 6 months. From Germany it’s around 60 per cent.’
He added that if the figures represent the true prevalence, the condition ‘will undoubtedly have lasting impact on the health service that is already struggling to catch up with 18 months worth of backlog’.
Professor Keith Willison, chair of chemical biology at Imperial College London, told MailOnline: ‘I think it is useful to try and collect this data but at the moment the long Covid symptoms are self-reported and the infection and progression of the disease in individuals is unknown in many cases.
‘There is a clear warning on the ONS site that their study is ‘experimental’ statistics. Many virus diseases in humans cause long-term problems and Covid seems no exception.’