Over 2 million people in England are thought to have had one or more COVID-19 symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks according to one of the largest studies of the virus funded by the government.
The study is based on self-reported data from 508,707 adults aged 18 and above who took part in REACT-2 rounds 3 to 5 carried out between September 2020 and February 2021.
Around a fifth of those surveyed reported having had a COVID-19 symptom previously, with over a third reporting persistent symptoms lasting at least 12 weeks. Around a tenth of those with symptoms said they lasted at least 12 weeks and were severe.
The findings suggest prevalence of persistent symptoms, or long COVID, increases with age, with a 3.5% increase in likelihood in each decade of life. It shows long COVID is higher among women, people who are overweight or obese, who smoke, live in deprived areas, or had been admitted to hospital. Persistent COVID-19 symptoms were lower in people of Asian ethnicity.
Health and Social Care Secretary, Matt Hancock said:
COVID-19 is still a relatively new disease and to better understand its long-term effects the government is providing scientists with £50 million of research funding through the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to help ensure the best treatments are available.
To help people suffering the debilitating long-term effects of this virus, the NHS has opened over 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:
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 reporting that they had severe symptoms.
Health Minister, Lord Bethell said:
The study was based on self-reported data and because many of the symptoms are common and not specific to COVID-19 it may overestimate the prevalence of persistent symptoms following COVID-19.
It adds to the growing body of evidence, including similar research from King’s College London and University College London published today (24 June 2021).