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"People who tested positive for COVID-19 are around eight times more likely to suffer prolonged symptoms than observed in the general population.”

Released today by the Office of National Statistics the "Prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus (COVID-19) infection in the UK".

- Estimates of the prevalence of self-reported "long COVID", and the duration of ongoing symptoms following confirmed coronavirus infection, using UK Coronavirus (COVID-19) Infection Survey data to 6 March 2021.

Statistician's comments

“The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that over a million people in the UK were reporting symptoms associated with long COVID at the beginning of March 2021, with over two-thirds of these individuals having had (or suspecting they had) COVID-19 at least 12 weeks earlier. An estimated 674,000 people reported that their symptoms have negatively impacted on their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities".

Ben Humberstone, Head of Health Analysis and Life Events, Office for National Statistics

Findings:

  • Over the four-week period ending 6 March 2021, an estimated 1.1 million people in private households in the UK reported experiencing long COVID (symptoms persisting more than four weeks after the first suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) episode that are not explained by something else).

  • The estimates presented in this analysis relate to self-reported long COVID, as experienced by study participants, rather than clinically diagnosed ongoing symptomatic COVID-19 or post-COVID-19 syndrome. There is no universally agreed definition of long COVID, but it covers a broad range of symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, and difficulty concentrating.

  • Self-reported long COVID symptoms were adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 674,000 people in private households in the UK, with 196,000 of these individuals reporting that their ability to undertake their day-to-day activities had been limited a lot.

  • Of people with self-reported long COVID, 697,000 first had (or suspected they had) COVID-19 at least 12 weeks previously, and 70,000 first had (or suspected they had) COVID-19 at least one year previously.

  • Prevalence rates of self-reported long COVID were greatest in people aged 35 to 69 years, females, those living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care, and those with a pre-existing, activity-limiting health condition; however, it is not possible to say whether these patterns are because of differences in the risk of coronavirus infection or susceptibility to experiencing long COVID following infection.

  • These estimates provide a measure of the prevalence of self-reported long COVID across the whole population, and reflect both the risk of being infected with coronavirus and the risk of developing long COVID following infection; to investigate the second of these components, we examined the duration of self-reported symptoms following confirmed infection.

  • Among a sample of over 20,000 study participants who tested positive for COVID-19 between 26 April 2020 and 6 March 2021, 13.7% continued to experience symptoms for at least 12 weeks. This was eight times higher than in a control group of participants who are unlikely to have had COVID-19, suggesting that the prevalence of ongoing symptoms following coronavirus infection is higher than in the general population.

  • Of study participants who tested positive for COVID-19, symptom prevalence at 12 weeks post-infection was higher for female participants (14.7%) than male participants (12.7%) and was highest among those aged 25 to 34 years (18.2%).

Can our NHS and government ignore this any longer?

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