What is long Covid and what are the known symptoms?
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How long it takes to recover from COVID-19 and the flu is different for everybody. For both conditions, many people feel better in a few days or weeks and most will make a full recovery within 12 weeks. But for some people, symptoms can last longer.
The chances of having long-term symptoms does not seem to be linked to how ill you are when you first get COVID-19, this is the same with flu.
The Oxford University research analysed health records of people diagnosed with flu and COVID-19, mainly in the US.
The two groups, both with just over 100,000 patients, included people seeking healthcare for symptoms three to six months after infection.
These included problems such as fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain or tightness and problems with memory and concentration – known as “brain fog”.
There were signs that COVID-19 patients were more likely to have long-term symptoms – 42 percent had at least one symptom recorded compared with 30 percent in the flu group.
Both groups included some who are considered vulnerable – who were likely to have been quite ill with the viruses – so the rates of persistent illness should not be seen as representative of the general population.
However, the study – published in the journal PLOS Medicine – concluded that both viruses could cause long-term problems that took time to get over.
Lead researcher, professor Paul Harrison said: “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 higher rate in the COVID-19 group could have been influenced by the fact that people may be more likely to seek care for long-term symptoms or the way symptoms are recorded for COVID-19.
On balance, the team revealed it was likely persistent symptoms were more common for COVID-19 than flu.
The research only looked for a signal of long-term symptoms.
Limitations suggested that it is not known for how long those seeking help had experiences symptoms for with the paper suggesting it could have been days or weeks.
The severity of the symptoms was also not recorded, just whether patients were experiencing any long term effects.
The team acknowledged that more research was needed into the issue of long Covid, but said the study did also bring to attention how little is known about persistent ill-health caused by flu.
Doctor Max Taquet, part of the research team, said: “Long-term symptoms from flu have probably been overlooked before.”
It comes as another study from Oxford University revealed that over a third of COVID-19 patients have been diagnosed with at least one long Covid symptom.
This new study investigated long Covid in over 270,000 people recovering from COVID-19 infection, using data from the US-based TriNetX electronic health record network.
This study does not explain what causes long-COVID symptoms, nor how severe they are, nor how long they will last.
NIHR Academic Clinical Fellow, Doctor Max Taquet, who led the analyses said: “The results confirm that a significant proportion of people, of all ages, can be affected by a range of symptoms and difficulties in the six months after COVID-19 infection.
“These data complement findings from self-report surveys, and show that clinicians are diagnosing patients with these symptoms. We need appropriately configured services to deal with the current and future clinical need.”
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