Over 2 million people in England might have had long COVID and suffered one or more COVID-19 symptoms that lasted at least 12 weeks, one of the biggest surveillance studies of the coronavirus found on Thursday.
The REACT-2 study, led by Imperial College London, found that more than a third of people who have had COVID-19 reported symptoms that lasted at least 12 weeks, with one in ten reporting severe symptoms which lasted that long.
“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,” said Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial.
The government-backed study was based on self-reported data from 508,707 adults between September 2020 and February 2021.
Symptoms ranged from tiredness and muscle aches to shortness of breath and chest pain, and the authors said that the study may overestimate the prevalence of long COVID as such symptoms are common and not always related to COVID-19.
The findings suggested older people were more likely to suffer long COVID, with a 3.5% increase in likelihood with each decade of life.
There was also higher prevalence of persistent symptoms among women, smokers, people who were overweight, lived in deprived areas or had been admitted to hospital, although it was lower among people of Asian ethnicity.
“Long COVID can have a lasting and debilitating impact on the lives of those affected,” health minister Matt Hancock said.
“Studies like this help us to rapidly build our understanding of the impact of the condition and we are using these findings and other new research to develop support and treatments.”