Women, people over 50 and those with multiple initial symptoms are more likely to suffer from Long-Covid, new research has found.
A study by King’s College London – the most comprehensive of its kind – looked at who is most at risk from developing the little-understood phenomenon of Long-Covid, where people who contract Covid-19 remain ill with various symptoms for weeks and in some cases months or longer.
The study found that about one in 20 people who contract Covid-19 go on to develop Long-Covid, while other risk factors included being overweight and having asthma or lung disease.
KCL researchers drew their conclusions from data gathered from the Covid Symptom Study App, where people who have tested positive for Covid-19 input their symptoms regularly to aid in research.
While the signature symptom of Covid-19 is a persistent dry cough, many people have reported a constellation of other symptoms such as diarrhoea, loss of taste and smell, fatigue, and headache, among other symptoms.
The researchers found the key risk factor for Long-Covid was developing this array of symptoms at the very beginning of their illness.
Senior author of the King’s study and clinical academic Dr Claire Steves told BBC News, “We’ve seen from the early data coming out that men were at much more risk of very severe disease and sadly of dying from Covid, it appears that women are more at risk of long Covid.”
The study found that about one in 7 people who contract coronavirus will be ill for at least four weeks; one in 20 people will be ill for at least 8 weeks, and one in 45 people will be ill for 12 weeks or longer.
Using the data gathered from the app, the researchers have developed a computer code to predict who is most at risk of developing Long-Covid. And while the code isn’t perfect – it correctly predicted 69 per cent of those who went on to develop Long-Covid – it’s an important starting point.
Steves noted why this recent study is so valuable and why more research is needed.
“It’s important we use the knowledge we have gained from the first wave in the pandemic to reduce the long-term impact of the second,” she said. “This should pave the way for trials of early interventions to reduce the long term effects. Thanks to the diligent logging of our contributors so far, this research could already pave the way for preventative and treatment strategies for Long-COVID. We urge everyone to join the effort by downloading the app and taking just a minute every day to log your health.”
Unite’s own Danny Freeman, who serves as the union’s London and Eastern education organiser, has himself experienced a harrowing bout of long-Covid, as UniteLIVE reporter Jody Whitehill highlighted last month.
Danny was first hospitalised in March and after becoming severely ill, he was eventually discharged in April. But months later, he’s still feeling the effects of his terrifying illness.
“When I first came home I was still coughing constantly. It’s awful. The breathlessness lasted six weeks,” Danny told UniteLIVE last month.
Over the following weeks Danny had tests to monitor his recovery. His lungs and vital organs recovered and seemed to be working well but some cognitive tests revealed some issues.
“My visual memory is at 62 per cent, my forgetting memory is 92 per cent but my verbal memory is only 16 per cent,” added Danny.
Danny now struggles in meetings as the effects of Covid mean he can’t keep focused. Taking notes helps him but he is easily overwhelmed and left exhausted. Danny is on a phased return to work. He is undergoing counselling for the trauma he has been through. He has physio and sees and osteopath too. He is also under the Wolfson neurological clinic, a neurorehabilitation centre.
“The fatigue is awful. You wake tired and then battle it all day. I also get waves of fatigue hit me throughout the day too,” said Danny.
Unite assistant general secretary Gail Cartmail highlighted why it was so important that both the government and employers recognise the debilitating impacts Long-Covid can have.
“Services are already pressed, public health is now within local government which is suffering financial difficulties as a result of austerity. Support in the community is also thin on the ground following cuts to mental health services. We need a cohort of resources to deal with Long-Covid,” she said.
“We need more research so that we can establish what it is about Long Covid that impedes workers’ abilities to do their jobs so bosses can make the necessary adjustments to help them return to work.
“As a trade union we need to be looking at whether this should be on our bargaining agenda so that we can ensure employer’s absence policies support workers who have Long-Covid,” she added.
She also noted that the UK has the lowest threshold on statutory sick pay.
“What happens if someone suffering with Long Covid only gets statutory sick pay – they will be pushed onto Universal Credit which leads to further mental ill health.
“The government needs to step up and ensure that people are not left to suffer financially as a result of this new illness.”
By Jody Whitehill and Hajera Blagg