Typically, we’ve come to believe that a mild case of COVID-19 infection lasts 14 days. More severe cases may last six weeks with hospitalisation. But cases of the symptoms lasting more than 8 weeks have been reported. For instance, a UK woman, who was infected in Christmas of 2019, has been experiencing symptoms to this day. Any instance of COVID-19 lasting more than 8 weeks is known as Long COVID.
As the cases of COVID-19 ‘Long Haulers’ increase, we know little about the prevalence of the phenomenon or its risk factors.
A COVID Symptom Study app from ZOE Global Limited released data from its users, which show that one in 20 coronavirus sufferers will have ‘Long COVID’ symptoms.
The study was led by Dr Claire Stevens and Prof Tim Spector at King’s College London. The researchers studied 4182 cases of COVID-19 users who logged their symptoms into the app.
Although most users felt better in 11 days or less, the researchers found that 558 users (13.3%) had symptoms that lasted more than 28 days, 189 for more than eight weeks and 95 users for more than 12 weeks.
Based on the early symptoms of the disease, the group also claimed that it could predict who is likely to develop symptoms of Long COVID. The more different symptoms they experienced, more likely they were to become Long Haulers.
Who is at risk of Long COVID?
The study conducted on long haulers said that three factors put people at increased risk of Long COVID. These are
- Increasing age
- Female sex
Older people were more at risk, although Long COVID has been seen in people across age groups. Higher than average BMI is another risk factor. While the data showed that men also suffered from Long COVID, twice the number of women were afflicted.
COVID-19 could be coming for our hair! Hair loss is one of the symptoms long haulers of COVID-19 suffer from.
In the first week of the infection, anyone who has more than one symptom of fatigue, headache, breathing difficulty and loss of smell and taste, as opposed to just one symptom, is also at increased risk. People who had asthma are also at increased risk.
“If you’ve got a persistent cough, hoarse voice, headache, diarrhoea, skipping meals, and shortness of breath in the first week, you are two to three times more likely to get longer-term symptoms,” said Spector.
What it feels like to have Long COVID
Long Haulers of COVID report fatigue as the commonest symptom.
Nisreen Alwan, associate professor in public health, University of Southampton, and honorary consultant in public health, University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, has had personal experience of Long COVID.
In a BMJ webinar, Alwan said: “A very common feature is the relapsing, remitting nature of the illness, where you feel as though you’ve recovered, then it hits you back.”
As she poignantly puts it, “It’s a constant cycle of disappointment, not just to you but people around you, who really want you to recover.”