Two-thirds of people with long Covid report lingering symptoms

Number of patients in hospital with Covid continues to decline

Almost 90 per cent of people living with long Covid had not returned to their full health long after their original infection, a study by scientists at University College Cork has found.

While some symptoms such as fever had decreased in prevalence, two-thirds of participants in the study reported continuing symptoms, including fatigue, post-exertional malaise, palpitations, chest pain, stomach upset/nausea, memory problems, muscle pain and joint pain.

The patients with long Covid also reported new symptoms that were not present previously, including tinnitus (38 per cent), ear ache (31 per cent), menstrual abnormalities (31 per cent), mouth ulcers (28 per cent) and skin rash (27 per cent).

The median number of symptoms that were being experienced at the time the survey was completed was eight, though one respondent reported 33 symptoms. The median duration was 12 months since the time of acute infection.

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The study of 988 participants, conducted via online questionnaire and published on HRB Open Research, was conducted by APC Microbiome Ireland, a research centre based at UCC, in conjunction with Cork University Hospital and Long Covid Advocacy Ireland.

Just over one-quarter of people with long Covid felt their symptoms were improving, but 43 per cent described them as persistent, 23 per cent as relapsing and 7 per cent as worsening over time.

Some 24 per cent of people described their symptoms as mild, 43 per cent as moderate and 33 per cent as having a severe impact on their general wellbeing.

A high proportion of long Covid patients said they still have a moderate to severe limitation in their ability to carry out their usual daily activities. Nearly four of 10 people were severely limited in their ability to work, and six of 10 have missed workdays due to their symptoms. Some 16 per cent said they were unable to work.

“This survey highlights that SARS-CoV-2 infection not only impacts the lungs but can have significant long-term effects on multiple organ systems following clearance of the acute infection in many Irish people who were otherwise healthy previously,” said immunologist at UCC Prof Liam O’Mahony.

While the cause of long Covid is unclear, the UCC research team is focusing on the role of the immune system and the microbiome in the disease process.

Most of the people surveyed – 88 per cent of whom were female – had a mild to moderate severity of initial Covid disease and did not need to be hospitalised at the time.

Meanwhile, the number of patients in hospital with Covid continues to decline, as does the positivity rate of people taking PCR tests. There were 364 patients with the virus in hospital on Sunday, compared to a recent peak of 468 last October 12th.

The PCR positivity rate, a measure of the level of infection in the community, stood at 12.1 per cent on Sunday, down from 14.6 per cent on October 12th.

While the latest wave of the virus appears to be ebbing, most experts believe another wave will occur before the end of the year. Case numbers and hospitalisations have fallen sharply in most European countries, perhaps as a result of the mild weather experienced in recent months.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times