The danger of ‘long covid’

The WHO is warning that what is known as ‘long covid’, one feature of which is debilitating fatigue, is a serious issue that countries should start paying more attention to.

Long Covid is “devastating” the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people, and wreaking havoc on health systems and economies, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned as he urged countries to launch “immediate” and “sustained” efforts to tackle the “very serious” crisis.

Covid has killed almost 6.5 million people and infected more than 600 million. The WHO estimates that 10% to 20% of survivors have been left with mid- and long-term symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness and cognitive dysfunction. Women are more likely to suffer from the condition.

Stark research published this month suggests that as many as 17 million people in Europe alone may have experienced long Covid symptoms during the first two years of the pandemic.

The modeling also suggests that women are twice as likely as men to experience long Covid, and the risk increases dramatically among severe infections needing hospitalisation, the report said. One in three women and one in five men are likely to develop long Covid, according to the report.

Prof Peter Openshaw, a UK government adviser and vice-chair of the government’s new and emerging respiratory virus threats advisory group (Nervtag), told the Guardian in an interview that he was “very concerned” about long Covid, and called for a more joined-up approach to research.

Asked if long Covid could persist for many years, Openshaw, a professor of experimental medicine at Imperial College London, said: “I think there will be people who are affected life-long, but how common that is going to be is hard to know at the moment. It’s too early to tell. But there are clearly some terrible stories of people whose lives have been devastated by post-Covid syndrome.”

Many of his colleagues in healthcare, who had previously been “energetic clinicians”, are “now unable to work because of long Covid”, Openshaw added. “Fortunately, most of us do get better. But I think it is quite clear that there are some people who just are devastated by it.”

Anthony Fauci is also warning of the dangers of long covid and of prematurely letting our guard down.

In an interview with the Guardian, Fauci urged US Congress to avoid complacency and resume funding to combat the virus as well as long Covid, a chronic and prolonged illness that continues to elude scientists and healthcare providers.

“It’s a very insidious beneath-the-radar-screen public health emergency,” Fauci said via Zoom. “It isn’t that you have people who are hospitalized or dying, but their function is being considerably impaired. For reasons that are obvious, that doesn’t attract as much attention as a death rate.”\

Fauci said: “The non-specificity and the vagueness of this is its own worst enemy because you can’t pin down what’s wrong or it takes a while to document how long it lasts. If one of the conditions for disability is that you have to have a condition last for a year, what is the parameter that you’re going to use to indicate that it’s lasted a year? If there’s no lab test, if it’s only subjective feeling – ‘well, I’ve been incapacitatingly fatigued for a year’ – how do you prove that?”

In April, Joe Biden announced efforts to raise awareness of long Covid as a potential cause of disability as part of a national research action plan to detect, prevent and treat long Covid and improve access to care – especially for communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic.

While I know many people who have got covid, I do not know any who have got long covid. While the fear of covid is subsiding, there is reason to not be too cavalier in dispensing with all the safety precautions we have become used to, just because we do not happen to have first-hand encounters with people who have got long covid.


  1. says

    And just a reminder: vaccination (probably) reduces the risk of long covid.

    Impact of COVID-19 vaccination on the risk of developing long-COVID and on existing long-COVID symptoms: A systematic review.

    Low level of evidence (grade III, case-controls, cohort studies) suggests that vaccination before SARS-CoV-2 infection could reduce the risk of subsequent long-COVID. The impact of vaccination in people with existing long-COVID symptoms is still controversial, with some data showing changes in symptoms and others did not. These assumptions are limited to those vaccines used in the studies.

  2. Mark Fairchild says

    @ahcuah There seems to be some evidence that vaccination will sometimes reduce or eliminate the symptoms of long-covid, even if the vaccination happens AFTER the symptoms develop. For long-covid, vaccination can be therapeutic rather than just prophylactic. The did study did find that the symptoms sometimes worsened after vaccination though.

  3. Denise Loving says

    My wife and I managed to avoid Covid until this month, when she forgot her mask at the store. She’s on day 13 and while she’s worked some, she’s had to stop during the day a few times because of brain fog. I’m concerned about that becoming a lasting symptom, but she’s also still symptomatic, with mild runny nose, cough, and sudden diarrhea a few times over the last two weeks. So I’m trying not to be too concerned, but if she eventually can’t work, we will be screwed.

    I’m on day ten, still nasal congestion and mucus, and a sore throat including a raw spot on one tonsil still. I’ve been disabled with Dercums Disease for fifteen years, so it wouldn’t make any material difference if I got increased brain fog, only increased frustration. At least my wife didn’t slip up until the virus is less nasty. Neither of us had lung involvement.

  4. Mano Singham says

    I am very sorry to hear about you and your wife’s covid symptoms. I sincerely hope it is not long covid.

  5. karmacat says

    Acc to Devang Sanghavi, MD, there are 3 categories of patients with long COVID,
    1. patients with COVID-19 who do not recover completely and have ongoing symptoms because of direct cell damage from the virus.
    2. Patients with symptoms related to chronic hospitalization such as when someone is in the hospital, ICU or is bed bound for weeks.
    3. Patients with symptoms that appear after recovery.
    Being bed bound for weeks can cause severe conditioning and it can take a long time to recover.
    King’s college in London are trying to predict who will get long COVID. So far, their prediction rate is 69%, meaning 25% do not develop long COVID. (I’m not sure what happened to 6%)

  6. John Morales says


    The researchers have used this information to develop a model that can predict who is most at risk of long COVID based on their age, gender, and count of early symptoms. Statistical tests showed that this simple prediction was able to detect more than two thirds (69%) of people who went on to get Long-Covid (sensitivity), and 73% effective at avoiding false alarms (specificity).

    The team then tested this model against an independent dataset of 2,472 people who reported a positive coronavirus antibody test result with a range of symptoms and found that it gave similar predictions of risk.

  7. Jazzlet says

    One of my neices has has Long COVID, she was initially infected in 2020 and then had weeks of severe fatigue -- to the extent that getting up was so tiring she would nap on the sofa for a couple of hours. She isn’t that bad now, but is still far more fatigued by pretty much any activity than she used to be. Fortunately her partner has been absolutely brilliant, very supportive without being indulgent or patronising, which has undoubtedly helped her recovery.

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