A record two million people in the UK are estimated to be suffering from long covid, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Figures show around 3.1% of the British population are suffering symptoms persisting for more than four weeks after catching Covid-19, according to new ONS estimates. Some 376,000 people who first caught Covid-19 around the start of the pandemic have reported symptoms lasting at least two years.
And 826,000 people have been experiencing symptoms for at least a year. Around 1.4 million have had lingering symptoms at least three months after their initial infection.
The NHS says common symptoms of long covid include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, and memory problems (brain fog). Other signs of long covid include insomnia, heart palpitations, dizziness, pins and needles, joint pain, depression and anxiety, and tinnitus and earaches.
People with long covid have also reported nausea and stomach problems, as well as original covid symptoms including a high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste. Rashes can also be a sign of long covid.
You should contact your GP if you’re worried about symptoms that have lasted four weeks or more after you had Covid-19 or thought you may have had Covid-19
The ONS said the rates of long covid were highest among women, those aged 35 to 69 years, people living in more deprived areas, those working in social care, teaching and education or health care, and those with other health conditions or disabilities.
The figures are based on self-reported long covid from a representative sample of people in private households in the four weeks to May 1 2022. Estimates for long covid in the UK have risen sharply in recent months, climbing from 1.3 million at the start of the year to reach 1.5 million by the end of January and 1.8 million in early April.
The increase is likely to reflect the impact of the Omicron variant of the virus, which saw record levels of infection across the country in the spring. Experts have called for more to be done to educate the public about the risks of long covid.
While experts advise the best protection from coronavirus is to be vaccinated, people are being warned that vaccines will not necessarily protect them from long covid.
Professor Amitava Banerjee, from the Institute of Health Informatics at University College London, told the PA news agency: “We know that the only way to prevent it is to prevent getting infected. We’ve put all of our eggs in the vaccination basket, and the latest analysis, including by ONS, show that although vaccinated people are much less likely to get long covid than those without vaccination, they still get can get infected, and they still can get long covid.
“So this idea that there’s nothing to worry about with high levels of covid in the population, I think, is misguided. I think we should be doing more to educate people… just as we’ve said since the beginning, there’s a risk of hospitalisation or at worst death in people who are vulnerable, and that’s why you should get vaccinated.
“But we should still be saying today in June 2022 that getting covid infection is something that’s best avoided because there’s a risk.”
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