A study of Covid patients in the Netherlands has found that up to one in eight suffer from long-term problems, ranging from chest pain, difficulties with breathing, heavy arms or legs and general tiredness.
The research, by a team from Groningen and Radboud teaching hospitals, was published on Friday in medical journal The Lancet.
‘After recovery from acute Covid-19, a substantial proportion of patients continue to experience symptoms of a physical, psychological, or cognitive nature,’ the researchers say.
These symptoms ‘have been described as the next public health disaster in the making, and there is an urgent need for empirical data on the scale and scope of the problem to support the development of an adequate health-care response,’ they said.
The researchers base their findings on an ongoing study of nearly 170,000 in the north of the Netherlands which began in 2006. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 76,000 of them have filled in a questionnaire and a number have undergone a physical examination.
The researchers were able to compare the responses of people who had coronavirus before and after the infection, and against a control group who had not had the virus.
‘If you ask people who have had coronavirus what their health was like before the infection, you get a subjective answer,’ Groningen researcher Aranka Ballering told the AD. ‘We know what their health was like on the basis of the earlier information.’
Patient organisation C-support, set up by the Dutch government, described the research as extremely important. ‘One in eight means we have far more Long Covid patients that we thought,’ director Annemieke de Groot said. ‘This makes it clear that we need an effective approach for these people.’
It is not yet clear if people who caught later variants of coronavirus are as severely affected, or what the impact will be in the longer term.
‘Based on our experiences with Q-fever and other infectious diseases, we are convinced that a large number of people will continue to recover,’ De Groot told the AD. ‘But we really don’t know. We can only say definitively in 10 years time.’
The Dutch public health institute RIVM said in June almost half of people who have been infected with coronavirus were still reporting problems three months after they had the alpha and delta variants of the virus.
The most common problems reported include fatigue, concentration problems and loss of smell, the RIVM said in a preliminary report into the long-term impact of coronavirus.
The under 65s who had recovered from coronavirus and who had been fully vaccinated were less likely to report problems with smell and taste but there was no difference between people who were not, were partially or fully vaccinated at the time of the infection.
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