Nearly half of COVID-19 survivors experience continuous symptoms, global research finds

More than 40 per cent of COVID-19 survivors experience symptoms of the virus four months after first being infected, international research has revealed. 

Long COVID affects 45 per cent of the population who have previously contracted the disease, according to researchers from the University of Leicester, University of Birmingham, Imperial College London, University College London, University of Bristol, Office for National Statistics and King Faisal University in Saudi Arabia. 

During the study, the team of academics examined 194 studies to assess the long-term health outcomes of 735,006 coronavirus survivors. 

They found that nearly half of the COVID-19 patients were still experiencing symptoms of fatigue four months after being infected, regardless of whether they were admitted to hospital or not. 

In addition, they found that abnormal CT patterns and x-rays and impaired diffusion capacity for carbon monoxide were frequently reported amongst those who were admitted to hospital.  

The research was supported by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) East Midlands. The NIHR is a major funder of global health research and training.

Dr Lauren O’Mahoney, Research Associate at the University of Leicester who led the systematic review, said: “These findings are alarming as they suggest a large number of people are still experiencing symptoms months after COVID-19”. 

“If we fail to address this grim milestone our already overstretched public health service will once again face massive pressures.” 

Professor Kamlesh Khunti CBE, Director of NIHR ARC East Midlands and the Real World Evidence Unit and Professor of Primary Care Diabetes and Vascular Medicine at the University of Leicester and senior author of the systematic review said: “If we are not careful this country will be faced with a tsunami of Long COVID cases. 

“We are learning more about Long COVID every day. We need to conduct further research on the disease so we can better understand how to reduce the number of people affected by this life-altering condition.”

NIHR ARC East Midlands funds vital work to tackle the region’s health and care priorities by speeding up the adoption of research onto the frontline of health and social care. The organisation puts in place evidence-based innovations which seek to drive up standards of care and save time and money.

NIHR ARC East Midlands is hosted by Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and works in collaboration with the East Midlands Academic Health Science Network. It has bases at the University of Leicester and the University of Nottingham.

The study, ‘The prevalence and long-term health effects of Long COVID among hospitalised and non-hospitalised populations: a systematic review and meta-analysis’ is now available in the journal eClinicalMedicine.    

Access the full research study.