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One in 50 people in UK experiencing long Covid, survey suggests

Undated handout photo issued by Jade Townsend, 22, of herself in hospital in her initial response to coronavirus, who still has debilitating symptoms six months after contracting the virus. The long-term health effects of Covid-19 could cause a "cycle of illness" and strain care systems, researchers have said, adding that the reasons behind them are still "so unknown".

By Ian Jones, PA

Around 1.3 million people in the UK – one in 50 – are likely to be suffering from long Covid, the highest number since estimates began.

This includes more than half a million people who first had Covid-19, or suspected they had the virus, at least one year ago.

The figures, from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), are based on self-reported long Covid from a representative sample of people in private households.

Responses were collected in the four weeks to December 6 – before the recent surge in coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant.

The estimate of 1.3 million people with long Covid is up from 1.2 million at the end of October and 945,000 at the start of July.

Of the 1.3 million, 892,000 people (70%) first had – or suspected they had – Covid-19 at least 12 weeks previously, while 506,000 (40%) first had the virus at least a year earlier.

Long Covid is estimated to be adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 809,000 people – nearly two-thirds of those with self-reported long Covid – with 247,000 saying their ability to undertake day-to-day activities has been “limited a lot”, the ONS found.

Fatigue continues to be the most common symptom (experienced by 51% of those with self-reported long Covid), followed by loss of smell (37%), shortness of breath (36%) and difficulty concentrating (28%).

People working in teaching and education showed a greater prevalence of self-reported long Covid than other professions, and also saw the biggest month-on-month increase, from 2.7% to 3.1%.

For people working in health care the figure dropped from 3.3% to 3.0%, and for people in social care it fell from 3.6% to 3.4%.

Among age groups the biggest jumps were for children aged 12 to 16, where prevalence rose month-on-month from 1.4% to 1.9%, and for 35 to 49-year-olds, up from 2.6% to 2.8%.

Self-reported long Covid is defined as symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus infection which could not be explained by something else.

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