Long Covid July 2021 update

It’s VITAL that everyone knows about LONG COVID, long-term conditions that over a million people have developed after catching the Covid-19 virus. The Government and media are saying that precautions to stop people catching Covid-19 can be abolished because vaccination means only a small number of people will have serious symptoms. However, the Government have not mentioned the EQUALLY important risk to people’s long-term health from Long Covid. But BuDS cares about your health, and we think you need to protect yourself against Long Covid too. Read on to find out more.  


 

INTRODUCTION 

The media and some Government sources are giving the impression that it is now ‘safe’ to catch Covid-19, because clinically vulnerable people are now vaccinated, and younger people rarely get serious symptoms when they first catch the virus.  The fact that nearly half of all positive cases are asymptomatic infections (where no symptoms are seen) is often quoted to try to ‘prove’ that catching Covid-19 is safe or just like any other mild illness.[1]

However, this is NOT TRUE. Even if people do not get ill with Covid-19 when they first catch it, they can instead get longer-term conditions called Long Covid which could potentially have a serious effect on their future life. Official NHS data shows that on average more than 1 in 10 adults and children (14%) who catch Covid-19 are getting ‘Long Covid’.[2] (Other studies found as high as 23%).[3] So, it’s vital that EVERYONE takes sensible precautions not to catch Covid-19, as it is NOT ‘safe’ for anyone to catch Covid-19.

BuDS has used only reliable scientific and medical sources to write this article and it has been reviewed by our expert team. But you should, of course, talk to your own doctor if you are worried about your own health and what to do to protect yourself from Covid-19 and Long Covid. If you would like to read the sources of information we used, please use the link below to go to our website, where they are all listed. 


 

WHAT IS LONG COVID? 

All viruses trigger people’s immune system, which is the way that the body destroys harmful bacteria and viruses that get inside the body. But sometimes a combination of persistent viral infection that wasn’t defeated by the immune system, internal damage caused by the virus, and the antibodies that fought the virus, can then attack the body as well.[4]­,[5],[6] When this happens, people can get long-term ‘autoimmune’ or ‘post-viral’ conditions, where the person’s own malfunctioning immune system and damaged internal organs start causing problems for them, instead of fixing them. These problems can include specific issues with joints or organs, cognitive reduction, but more commonly issues are with tiredness or pain.[7],[8] Long Covid is a catch-all term covering a number of post-viral conditions which develop after the immune system is activated by an infection of Covid-19.[9],[10]


 

WHEN IS COVID-19 KNOWN AS LONG COVID? 

This is how NHS doctors classify people who catch Covid-19:  

ACUTE COVID-19: Most people (if they have any symptoms at all) get symptoms of Covid-19 for about 10 days after they first catch the virus, and then recover.[11] However, doctors think it is not unusual for people to have symptoms of Covid-19 up to 4 weeks after catching the virus.[12] Anyone with symptoms of Covid-19 up to 4 weeks after catching the virus is said to have ‘acute Covid-19’.

ONGOING COVID-19: If people still have symptoms of Covid-19 after 4 weeks, doctors call this ‘ongoing Covid-19’.  

POST COVID SYNDROME: If people still have symptoms of Covid-19 after 12 weeks, doctors call this ‘Post-Covid Syndrome’.[13]

Long Covid is a term used to describe people who have ongoing Covid-19 (symptoms between 4 and 12 weeks) and those with post-Covid syndrome (symptoms after 12 weeks).[14]


 

HOW MANY PEOPLE ARE GETTING LONG COVID? 

Every month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) looks at the people included in the weekly infection surveys to see whether they were showing any symptoms of Covid-19 5 weeks after they had caught the virus.[15] Using this 5-week period means that they were looking for people who had ‘Long Covid’ rather than people who still had acute Covid-19.[16] These symptoms are self-reported, so some asymptomatic infections may have been missed. However, they give a good indication into the prevalence of Long Covid in the community.

According to this study, approximately 1 million people across the UK are experiencing symptoms of Long Covid (as of May 2nd), or 1.6% of the population.[17] Of these, 869,000 had been experiencing symptoms for more than 12 weeks.[18] For 376,000 people, symptoms had lasted longer than a year – meaning over a third of a million people who caught Covid-19 in the very first wave back in 2020 are still experiencing the effects of the virus.[19] It is estimated that between 50% and 89% of people who were hospitalised with Covid-19 go on to experience Long Covid.[20] These are very high numbers indeed.

Of the people who reported symptoms of Long Covid, 635,000 (63.5%) reported that their ability to go about their daily life had been adversely affected, with 192,000 of these reporting that their day-to-day activities had been greatly limited. Put simply, almost a fifth of people with Long Covid experience symptoms that make it much harder for them to go about their normal lives – this makes them disabled in law.[21] This is a huge number and shows that the risk of this happening is high.

Almost a fifth (19%) of people who have no acute symptoms when they catch Covid-19 (asymptomatic cases) go on to develop Long Covid later.[22]


 

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LONG COVID?  

The main symptoms of Long Covid are similar to those of Covid-19 itself. For most people, these include extreme tiredness or fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, loss of cognitive ability or “brain fog”, anxiety, stress, depression, insomnia, dizziness, pins and needles, joint pain, tinnitus, sickness, diarrhoea or stomach aches, loss of appetite, high temperatures, coughs, headaches, loss of sense of taste/smell, and rashes.[23],[24],[25] Not everybody experiences the same symptoms, and some are more common than others (notably fatigue and “brain fog”).[26] The symptoms often last for many weeks or months, and some people get better over time while others do not improve.[27],[28]

Fatigue was by far the most common symptom of Long Covid, followed by shortness of breath, muscle ache and difficulty concentrating (“brain fog”).[29] Symptoms were most commonly seen in people aged between 35 and 69, females (up to 30% higher than in men),[30] those living in the most deprived areas, those working in health or social care, and those with another health condition or disability.[31] Prevalence was, however, lowest in people of Asian ethnic background.[32] It looks from this that Long Covid affects a different group of people to those who experience the worst acute effects from infection with Covid-19 such as older people, men, and ethnic minorities.


 

DO VACCINES PREVENT LONG COVID? 

The short answer is probably not. Long Covid is a group of auto-immune conditions which are associated with the immune response to Covid-19. Vaccines do not stop people catching Covid-19; they stop people getting very ill with Covid-19 by triggering peoples’ immune systems before they catch it. So vaccinated people still catch Covid-19, and they still experience an immune response to Covid-19 – and it is that immune response which, if it goes wrong, leads to Long Covid. So, the science suggests that vaccinated people are still at risk of developing Long Covid. We don’t know yet if the risk of Long Covid is lower for vaccinated people, or if the symptoms of Long Covid are different in vaccinated people. We know that vaccinating people who already have Long Covid can sometimes improve their symptoms.[33]


 

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME? 

Because more than 1 in 10 people who catch Covid-19 go on to develop Long Covid, it is VERY important that people do NOT catch Covid-19 in the first place. It is NOT scientifically accurate to think that, because people do not get very ill when they first catch Covid-19, and are not hospitalised, that Covid-19 is somehow ‘safe’ for people to catch. It is NOT safe for anyone, whatever their age, to catch Covid-19.  

You can protect yourself from Covid-19 with sensible precautions like wearing face coverings, social distancing, hand washing and avoiding close contact with others, especially indoors. While the number of infected people is so high, we feel you should continue to do these things even if the Government and media say they are not necessary. Remember, keeping yourself safe is always the best option. Being vaccinated is also ESSENTIAL. 


 

FINALLY 

Please feel free to share this article on social media, although always credit BuDS as the author. If you have any questions, please send us a message or leave a comment.  

BuDS is here for you if you are anxious or lonely – e-mail us at buds-support@buds.org.uk, leave a voicemail on 01494 211179 or send us a message on social media.  


[1] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19infectionsinthecommunityinengland/characteristicsofpeopletestingpositiveforcovid19incountriesoftheuk20may2021#symptoms-profile-of-strong-positive-cases-uk

[2] True value of approx. 14%, from: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25033403-600-long-covid-do-i-have-it-how-long-will-it-last-and-can-we-treat-it/

[3] As quoted in: https://s3.amazonaws.com/media2.fairhealth.org/whitepaper/asset/A%20Detailed%20Study%20of%20Patients%20with%20Long-Haul%20COVID–An%20Analysis%20of%20Private%20Healthcare%20Claims–A%20FAIR%20Health%20White%20Paper.pdf

[4] Overall symptom summary from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25033403-600-long-covid-do-i-have-it-how-long-will-it-last-and-can-we-treat-it/

[5] More information from https://www.nbt.nhs.uk/our-services/a-z-services/bristol-chronic-fatigue-syndromeme-service/post-viral-fatigue-a-guide-management and https://www.nbt.nhs.uk/our-services/a-z-services/bristol-chronic-fatigue-syndromeme-service/chronic-fatigue-syndromeme-causes

[6] https://www.cdc.gov/me-cfs/about/possible-causes.html?_ga=2.160544315.749682354.1624979952-552665587.1624979952 – this link relates to ME/CFS or post-viral fatigue, which is one of the main conditions experienced as part of Long Covid.

[7] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25033403-600-long-covid-do-i-have-it-how-long-will-it-last-and-can-we-treat-it/

[8] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/long-term-effects-of-coronavirus-long-covid/

[9] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25033403-600-long-covid-do-i-have-it-how-long-will-it-last-and-can-we-treat-it/

[10] https://evidence.nihr.ac.uk/themedreview/living-with-covid19-second-review/

[11] https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-2019-nCoV-clinical-2021-1

[12] https://www.ons.gov.uk/news/statementsandletters/theprevalenceoflongcovidsymptomsandcovid19complications

[13] https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/post-covid-syndrome-long-covid/

[14] Ibid.

[15] Latest release of this study is for June 2021, dealing with data up to May 2021. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/prevalenceofongoingsymptomsfollowingcoronaviruscovid19infectionintheuk/4june2021

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25033403-600-long-covid-do-i-have-it-how-long-will-it-last-and-can-we-treat-it/

[21] Ibid.

[22] https://s3.amazonaws.com/media2.fairhealth.org/whitepaper/asset/A%20Detailed%20Study%20of%20Patients%20with%20Long-Haul%20COVID–An%20Analysis%20of%20Private%20Healthcare%20Claims–A%20FAIR%20Health%20White%20Paper.pdf

[23] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/long-term-effects-of-coronavirus-long-covid/

[24] https://evidence.nihr.ac.uk/themedreview/living-with-covid19-second-review/

[25] https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/post-covid-syndrome-long-covid/

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/long-term-effects-of-coronavirus-long-covid/

[29] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/prevalenceofongoingsymptomsfollowingcoronaviruscovid19infectionintheuk/4june2021

[30] https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25033403-600-long-covid-do-i-have-it-how-long-will-it-last-and-can-we-treat-it/

[31] https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/bulletins/prevalenceofongoingsymptomsfollowingcoronaviruscovid19infectionintheuk/4june2021

[32] Ibid

[33] https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.03.11.21253225v3