As many as one in eight people who contract the Covid-19 coronavirus go on to have persistent symptoms, a study of long Covid prevalence in the Netherlands has concluded.
Research published in The Lancet this week analysed more than 76,000 people, of whom 4,000 had Covid. The researcher found that 12.7% had long Covid symptoms including chest pain, difficulties breathing, painful muscles and general tiredness, three to six months later.
Aranka Ballering, the author of the research at the University of Groningen, said: “By looking at symptoms in an uninfected control group and in individuals both before and after Sars-CoV-2 infection, we were able to account for symptoms which may have been a result of non-infectious disease health aspects of the pandemic, such as stress caused by restrictions and uncertainty.”
The research found that 21.4% of people with Covid-19 had at least one new or severely increased symptom 90-150 days after initial infection, compared with 8.7% of uninfected people over the same period.
“Post-Covid-19 condition is an urgent problem with a mounting human toll,” added Ballering. “Understanding the core symptoms and the prevalence of post-Covid-19 in the general population represents a major step forward for our ability to design studies that can ultimately inform successful healthcare responses to the long-term symptoms of Covid-19.”
Long Covid prevalence
The research comes as the Office for National Statistics this week estimated 1.8 million people in the UK (2.8% of the population) were experiencing self-reported long Covid – symptoms lasting more than four weeks after Covid-19 infection that were not explained by something else) as of 2 July 2022.
The ONS long Covid prevalence analysis suggested that for people with self-reported long Covid, 243,000 (14%) first had – or suspected they had – Covid-19 less than 12 weeks previously, 1.4 million people (81%) at least 12 weeks previously, 761,000 (43%) at least one year previously, and 380,000 (21%) at least two years previously.
Long Covid symptoms adversely affected the day-to-day activities of 1.3 million people (72% of those with self-reported long Covid), with 369,000 (21%) reporting that their day-to-day activities had been “limited a lot”.
Fatigue continued to be the most common symptom reported as part of individuals’ experience of long Covid (54%), followed by shortness of breath (31%), loss of smell (23%) and muscle ache (22%).
The ONS also found that, as a proportion of the UK population, the prevalence of self-reported long Covid was greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, females, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, those aged 16 years or over who were not students or retired and who were not in or looking for paid work, and those with another activity-limiting health condition or disability.
Long Covid was found to be more prevalent in the “economically inactive” than those in employment or those who were unemployed.
The full list of symptoms attributed to long Covid by the Netherlands research were chest pain, difficulties breathing, pain when breathing, painful muscles, loss of taste and smell, tingling extremities, a lump in the throat, feeling hot and cold, heavy arms or legs, and general fatigue.