Seven in 10 patients hospitalised by coronavirus still suffer debilitating ‘long Covid’ symptoms five months after being discharged, scientists say.
Research laying bare the toll of the condition revealed survivors were plagued with problems including breathlessness, fatigue and muscle pain.
University of Leicester experts, who quizzed 1,077 long-haulers, found two in five had reduced their workload or were off sick because of their persistent symptoms.
They also found evidence of organ damage in sufferers, and that those who required mechanical ventilation took longer to recover from long Covid.
Separate data from Glasgow University released today further highlighted the plight of long Covid victims, saying women under-50 were worst affected.
Professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, claimed the studies added to knowledge of long Covid, which is still surrounded in mystery.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he was ‘determined’ to improve care for Britons suffering the ‘lasting and debilitating’ impacts of Covid — which is estimated to have infected around 15million people in the UK.
Estimates suggest long Covid strikes up to one in ten infected people, leaving them battling fatigue and brain fog for months.
NHS England has put aside more than £20million to treat the condition and set up a network of 72 sites across the nation to assist patients complaining of symptoms.
The Leicester University study found four in five ‘long Covid’ patients were still suffering symptoms five months after they were discharged from hospital. These included breathlessness, slowed thinking and muscle pains
Professor Chris Whitty said the findings added to Britain’s understanding of the condition, and Health Secretary Matt Hancock insisted he was determined to ensure patients got treatment
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.
Another study in Italy showed one in ten people who lose their sense of taste and smell with the coronavirus – now recognised as a key sign of the infection – may not get it back within a month.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, involved 187 Italians who had the virus but who were not ill enough to be admitted to hospital.
The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty has said the longer term impacts of Covid-19 on health ‘may be significant’.
Support groups such as Long Covid have popped up online for those who ‘have suspected Covid-19 and your experience doesn’t follow the textbook symptoms or recovery time’.
Leicester University academics followed 1,077 hospitalised Covid patients who were discharged between March and November last year.
Participants were invited to fill in two questionnaires up to seven months after they were allowed to go home.
They were quizzed on whether they had fully recovered, returned to work, and what impact the virus was still having on their daily lives.
As many as 446 of the 767 who answered the question on whether they had recovered said they were still facing signs of the disease (71 per cent).
A further 113 of 641 who responded to the queries on employment said they were no longer working (17.8 per cent), while 124 (19.3 per cent) said Covid had changed their work schedules.
When quizzed on their mental health, 25 per cent had tell-tale signs of anxiety or depression (612 of 908 who answered the question) and 12 per cent had PTSD-like symptoms.
The worst affected patients tended to be white, middle-aged women with underlying conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
The ten most common symptoms were:, fatigue, physical slowing down, impaired sleep quality, joint pain or swelling, limb weakness, short-term memory loss, and slowed thinking
Scientists speculated that long Covid may be triggered by unusually high levels of an inflammatory hormone in the blood — C-reactive protein.
It was found in the highest levels in the worst affected.
But the team, whose findings have yet to be peer-reviewed and were only published on medRxiv, said further tests were needed.
Professor Whitty, who is also co-lead of the National Institute for Health Research, said: ‘We are in the foothills of our understanding of long term effects of Covid.
‘This research provides useful information on the debilitating effects of Covid some people are living with months after being hospitalised.
‘It is important we work out what exactly the various elements of what is currently termed “long Covid” are so we can target actions to prevent and treat people suffering with long term effects.’
A separate study from Glasgow University, also published on medRxiv, suggested that women under 50 were five times less likely than men to feel fully recovered from the virus after three months.
But these figures were based on only 36 women in this age group who had been discharged from hospital.
Experts say this sample size is too small to draw concrete conclusions — but they couldn’t deny there may be a link between gender and ‘long Covid’.
They added women may have been more likely to experience ‘long Covid’ because mountains of research showed they were more likely to have autoimmunity — when the body targets its own healthy organs and cells.
‘It is known that this inflammation is associated with poor recovery across the disease spectrum,’ said Professor Louise Wain chair of the British Lung Foundation and who was involved in the study.
Department of Health bosses posted 5,379 infections yesterday, which was up 1.6 per cent from last Tuesday. Cases have remained steady over the past few days, but this has been put down to the number of tests being done almost doubling
Another 112 victims were also added to the official toll yesterday, a week on-week rise of 1.8 per cent. The overall trend for deaths is, however, still heading downwards
Mr Hancock said: ‘I know long Covid can have a lasting and debilitating impact on the lives of those affected and I’m determined to improve the care we can provide.
‘Studies like this help us to rapidly build our understanding of the impact of the condition and we are working to develop new research so we can support and treat people.
‘We are learning more about long Covid all the time and have given £20million research funding to support innovative projects, with clinics established across the country to help improve the treatment available.’