Researchers from Oxford say common ‘long Covid’ symptoms are also prevalent among those infected with influenza
Doctors are diagnosing almost 40 per cent of Covid patients with at least one persistent symptom up to six months after their initial infection, according to a new study.
The most common symptoms, including abnormal breathing, abdominal issues, fatigue, pain and anxiety or depression, are also prevalent among people infected with flu – but Covid patients face a higher risk of developing these conditions, researchers said.
When looking at Covid-19, the researchers found that different groups were affected by long-lasting symptoms in different ways.
For instance, older people and men had more breathing difficulties and cognitive problems, whereas young people and women had more headaches, abdominal symptoms and anxiety or depression.
When taking all factors into account, the research team estimated that 37 per cent of people who had a Covid-19 infection had at least one long Covid symptom three to six months after infection.
The team also estimated that symptoms linked to long Covid were around 50 per cent more common among those who had a Covid-19 infection compared to those who had flu….
The authors stressed there were “important caveats” which meant the results should not be generalised: one was that people included in the study with both flu and Covid could have been more unwell than those in the general population because they had sought medical help for their symptoms….
Dr Elaine Maxwell, a scientific adviser at the NIHR, who was not involved in the study, said the research “only included those who had tested positive so likely missed many people who stayed at home and were not tested” for Covid or flu.
“All these large retrospective records-based studies show associations, rather than causation, and it is a mistake to assume they can be used prospectively to identify patients without a study to test these associations,” she added.
“The best we can say is that a significant number of people report a wide range of sequelae. These people need individualised assessment and care.”
Health officials have warned that this year’s flu season could be particularly troublesome as immunity to influenza viruses waned during the pandemic.
The government is hoping that more people than ever will get their flu jab, with over-50s and clinically vulnerable people being called forward to get a vaccine.
Professor Paul Harrison, from the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Oxford, who headed the study, said: “There are various post-viral conditions recognised and many of us who have experienced flu know how you don’t always feel completely better as quickly as you’ve been hoping or expecting to.”
The Office for National Statistics estimates that 970,000 British people are suffering ongoing symptoms after a Covid-19 infection.
The figures, based on self-reported symptoms, also suggest 384,000 people are still living with symptoms a year after infection.