A new study reveals that a third of Covid sufferers in Britain have post-infection symptoms that persist for at least 12 weeks
By Thea Jourdan for The Telegraph, 24 June, 2021
A new study from Imperial College London has revealed the extent of the issue for the first time, showing that more than two million people in England may have suffered, or still be suffering from, long Covid – whatever its cause.
“We found about 20 per cent of the population say they have had Covid and of those, around a third have symptoms that persist for at least 12 weeks,”Professor Paul Elliott, Director of the React programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health.
For more than a year, many sufferers have reported that although the acute illness has passed, they still have a variety of symptoms, from breathlessness to mental fatigue and aching joints, that last more than 12 weeks after infection.
Yet, medical reaction varies: while some agree a new condition – similar to myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME) or chronic fatigue syndrome – has emerged, others still talk of a more typical post-viral fatigue. There have been suppositions, too, that long Covid was psychosomatic – or that pre-existing damage, in the heart or kidneys perhaps, was triggered by cellular changes caused by the virulence of the virus.
“We don’t really know how severe the symptoms were. However, we did group people according to their symptoms and there were two broad groups. One was predominantly tiredness and fatigue; the other was respiratory type symptoms, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.”Professor Paul Elliott, Director of the React programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health.
Hugh Montgomery, professor of intensive care medicine at UCL, says he has seen the long-lasting impact of infection first hand and it should be taken seriously. “Long Covid is definitely a real thing which will be profoundly debilitating for some people and we are doing research into why this happens and what could help sufferers,” he says.
As to a cause, recent research, as yet not peer reviewed, suggests that systemic inflammation may be to blame, even if patients had mild symptoms when infected. Changes in the body’s immune cells could cause long-term health problems. Although the virus itself is unlikely to be responsible, fragments may remain and cause havoc in susceptible people. But no one knows for sure.The Telegraph.
So why does Britain seem to be particularly badly hit by the condition?
The numbers are certainly high. One possibility is researchers in the UK are actively asking people if they have long-term symptoms, following the old rule that “where you look for things, you will find them”. So, in other words, the results are skewed and the numbers are exaggerated.
Another theory is that the advice to get lots of rest, encouraging people recovering from Covid to take to their beds, may have left people more debilitated than if they had been more active.
However, as time goes on, the evidence mounts that long Covid is a global phenomenon. According to a new study published in the journal Nature Medicine, scientists found persistent symptoms after mild Covid infection in more than half of young adults in Norway aged 16 to 30, and many were still ill six months later.