But most people with COVID-19 are never ill enough to be hospitalized. The best way to assess the prevalence of long COVID is to follow a representative group of people who have tested positive for the virus. The UK Office of National Statistics (ONS) has done just that, by following more than 20,000 people who have tested positive since April 2020 (see ‘Uncertain endpoint’). In its most recent analyses, published on 1 April, the ONS found that 13.7% still reported symptoms after at least 12 weeks (there is no widely agreed definition of long COVID, but the ONS considers it to be COVID-19 symptoms that last more than 4 weeks).
In other words, more than one in 10 people who became infected with SARS-CoV-2 have gone on to get long COVID. If the UK prevalence is applicable elsewhere, that’s more than 16 million people worldwide.
The condition seems to be more common in women than in men. In another ONS analysis, 23% of women and 19% of men still had symptoms 5 weeks after infection. That is “striking”, says Rachael Evans, a clinician scientist at the University of Leicester, UK, and a member of the Post-Hospitalisation COVID-19 study (PHOSP-COVID). “If you’re male and get COVID, you’re more likely to go to hospital and you’re more likely to die. Yet if you survive, actually it’s females that are much more likely to get the ongoing symptoms.”
Author(s): Michael Marshall
Publication Date: 9 June 2021
Publication Site: Nature