Survey reveals over 2 million people impacted by long COVID in UK

pharmafile | June 24, 2021 | News story | |  COVID-19, UK, government, long covid, study 

A recent survey from Imperial College London has revealed that over 2 million people in the UK may have suffered from long lasting COVID-19 symptoms.

The REACT study, which was granted £5.5 million from the UK government, assessed self-reported data from 508,707 adults, finding that 5.8% of the whole study population had suffered from symptoms lasting over 12 weeks.

The findings from the survey also suggested that prevalence of long COVID increases with age, with a 3.5% increase in likelihood in each decade of life. It also revealed that long COVID is higher among women, people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, live in deprived areas, or had been admitted to hospital.

There is no official definition for long COVID as of yet, and the long-term damage it may cause has not been studied in depth. In response to this, the government has pledged a further £50 million in research funding, through the UK Research and Innovation and the National Institute for Health Research, to help ensure the best treatments are available.

The NHS has also now opened 80 long COVID assessment services across England and last week the NHS published a £100 million plan to expand support, including £30 million to help GPs improve diagnosis and care for patients with long COVID.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme at Imperial, said: “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. Long COVID is still poorly understood but we hope through our research that we can contribute to better identification and management of this condition, which our data and others’ suggest may ultimately affect millions of people in the UK alone.”

The survey took place between September 2020 and February 2021, wherein a random selection of people were asked whether they had had COVID-19 (confirmed or suspected), and about the presence and duration of 29 different symptoms.

People with persistent symptoms at 12 weeks fell into two broad groups. In the first, the most common symptom was tiredness and muscle aches. In the second, the most common symptoms were shortness of breath affecting normal activities, tightness in chest, and chest pain, with more people in this group reporting severe symptoms.

Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said: “Long COVID can have a lasting and debilitating impact on the lives of those affected. 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.”

Another study, conducted by University College London and King’s College London, found one in six middle-aged people who reported being infected with coronavirus said they had long COVID symptoms. This fell to one in 13 among younger adults.

The REACT study, which stands for real-time assessment of community transmission, is a series of studies that are using home testing to improve our understanding of how the COVID-19 pandemic is progressing across England. The programme was commissioned by the Department of Health and Social Care and is being carried out by Imperial College London in partnership with Ipsos, MORI, and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

Kat Jenkins

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