While many recover from COVID-19 within a few weeks, a substantial number of people witness long-term problems and lingering symptoms even after recovering from the infection. Health experts refer to these persisting symptoms as long COVID.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Wednesday defined long COVID as a post-COVID-19 condition.“Post Covid-19 condition occurs in individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually three months from the onset of Covid-19 with symptoms that last for at least two months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis,” the world health body said.
According to WHO estimates, 10 to 20 percent of COVID-19 patients complained of lingering symptoms for months after being infected.
Due to the presence of many linked symptoms associated with the condition, it took longer for the WHO to define long COVID.
The symptoms can continue for a longer period after the initial illness or be a new onset after the initial recovery from the acute phase of COVID-19 infection. “Symptoms may also fluctuate or relapse over time,” WHO said.
Long COVID symptoms
According to the UN health agency, the most common symptoms of the post-COVID-19 condition include shortness of breath, fatigue, cognitive dysfunction and other problems that impact everyday functioning.
“A very common feature is the relapsing, remitting nature of the illness, where you feel as though you’ve recovered, then it hits you back. It’s a constant cycle of disappointment, not just to you but people around you, who really want you to recover,” Nisreen Alwan, associate professor in public health, University of Southampton, said at a webinar organised by The Lancet last month.
In September, a study conducted by the National Institute for Health Research and Oxford University showed that one long-term COVID-19 symptom was found in 37 percent of patients within three to six months after being infected with the virus.
The study, which was published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found the symptoms were more common among women, seniors, and individuals who suffered from severe symptoms during the acute phase.
However, WHO said, a separate definition may be applicable for such symptoms in children.
Long COVID impact
“We have to remain vigilant. This pandemic is not over and it continues to cause disease, continues to cause death, but it also continues to cause long-term consequences for people around the world,” Dr Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies programme, said.
Long COVID substantially impacts society economically through its high healthcare costs and with the loss of productivity, say health experts. They have called the condition a public health concern.
Until now, there is no proven treatment or rehabilitation process for those suffering from long COVID symptoms.
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According to data from the Office for National Statistics in the UK, about 970,000 people (1.5 percent of the population) had reported long Covid as on August 1.
(Edited by : Kanishka Sarkar)