New Scientist Default Image

A therapist explains test results to a person being treated for long covid in Poland

BARTOSZ SIEDLIK/AFP via Getty Images

An estimated 1 million people in private households in the UK say they had long covid in the four weeks to 2 May, according to the latest survey from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Of these people, an estimated 869,000 first had covid-19 – or suspected they had covid-19 – at least 12 weeks earlier, while 376,000 first had the virus or suspected they had it at least a year ago.

Long covid was estimated to be adversely affecting the day-to-day activities of 650,000 people, with 192,000 reporting that their ability to undertake such activities was limited a lot.

Long covid, also known as post-covid syndrome, is used to describe ill effects that continue for weeks or months after a coronavirus infection.

Common symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness, problems with memory and concentration, insomnia, dizziness, joint pain, depression and anxiety, tinnitus and diarrhoea.

The previous figures, covering the four weeks to 6 March 2021, suggested that 70,000 people in private households in the UK had experienced symptoms of long covid for at least 12 months. The new figure of 376,000 is markedly higher because it takes in people infected during the peak of the first wave.

The prevalence of self-reported long covid was greatest in people aged 35 to 69, females, those living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care, and those with another activity limiting health condition or disability, the ONS found.

Fatigue (weakness or tiredness) was the most common symptom, affecting 547,000 out of 1 million people, followed by shortness of breath (405,000), muscle ache (313,000) and difficulty concentrating (285,000).

Scientists are still unsure why some people experience such long-lasting illness, but some studies suggest the virus may cause premature ageing of the immune system, and this may be a cause of long covid.

Sign up to our free Health Check newsletter for a round-up of all the health and fitness news you need to know, every Saturday

More on these topics: