Old age and a wide range of early symptoms increase the risk of the so-called “prolonged covid”, according to scientists.
Study of King’s College London, in the UK, estimates that one in 20 people will be sick for at least eight weeks. Research shows that being female, being overweight and asthma increase your risk.
The researchers’ goal is to develop a warning sign that can identify patients who need extra care.
The findings come from an analysis of people who put their symptoms and test results into the British app Covid Symptom Study. The application data is shared daily with researchers from the King’s College London and the UK public health service, NHS.
Scientists analyzed the data for patterns that could predict who would have a long-term illness.
The results, which should be published online, show that for a long time persistent covid can affect anyone, but some characteristics increase the risks.
What increases the risk?
“Having more than five different symptoms in the first week was one of the main risk factors identified,” explained Claire Steves, from King’s College London, at BBC News.
Covid-19 is more than just a cough, and the virus that causes it can affect organs throughout the body.
A person who had a cough, fatigue, headache and diarrhea and lost their sense of smell (which are all potential symptoms) would be at greater risk than someone who just had a cough.
The risk also increases with age, especially over 50, as well as being female.
“We saw in the first data that men are much more at risk of very serious illnesses and, unfortunately, of dying from covid, and it seems that women are more at risk of having persistent covid,” says Steves.
No pre-existing condition was associated with persistent covid, except asthma and lung disease.
How is covid persistent?
The precise symptoms of prolonged covid vary from patient to patient, but fatigue is common.
Vicky Bourne, 48, started with a fever and a “pathetic cough” in March, which became “absolutely terrifying” when she had difficulty breathing and had to be given oxygen by a paramedic.
She was not admitted to the hospital, but is still (in October) living with persistent covid.
Vicky’s health is improving, but her outlook has changed and she still has “waves” of more serious illnesses. Even a task like walking the dog requires so much of her that she cannot speak at the same time.
“My joints are strange, almost arthritic and, strangely, two weeks ago I lost my taste and smell again, they just disappeared completely,” he told the BBC. “It’s almost as if there is an inflammation in my body that keeps oscillating and can’t get rid of it, so it just appears and then it goes, then it comes back and it goes away …”
Vicky is not alone. The study provides the following estimates:
- One in seven people is sick for at least four weeks;
- One in 20 people is sick for at least eight weeks;
- One in 45 people is sick for at least 12 weeks.
Researchers from King’s College London created a computer code to identify, since the beginning of a coronavirus infection, who is at risk of prolonged covid.
It is not perfect – it correctly identifies 69% of people who will develop persistent covid, but it also manages to point out that about a quarter of people who would recover quickly will also develop persistent covid.
“We think this will be very important, because then we could identify these people, maybe give them preventive strategies, but also, crucially, accompany them and make sure they get the rehabilitation they need,” said Steves.
Professor Tim Spector, who leads the Covid Symptom Study, said: “It is important that, in addition to worrying about excess deaths, we also take into account those who will be affected by the persistent covid if we do not control the pandemic soon.”
British health secretary Matt Hancock said the findings from the study of covid symptoms are a warning even for young people.
“The results of the Covid Symptom Study are clear and should be a strong reminder to the public, including young people, that covid-19 is indiscriminate and can have long-term and potentially devastating effects. “
The British government has released a new video with the aim of raising awareness about the prolonged symptoms of covid. And the NHS, the public health system, has announced a £ 10 million package for prolonged covid treatment in England.
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