new study | 

Nine in 10 long-Covid sufferers in Ireland are sick with symptoms for a year or more

It found that more than two in three respondents who were infected with Covid reported continuing fatigue, post-exertional malaise, palpitations, chest pain, stomach upset, nausea, memory issues, muscle pain or joint pain.

Fatigue is a prominent symptom of long-Covid. Stock image

Eilish O'

The true scale of long-Covid in Ireland has been laid bare as a new study reveals today that almost nine in 10 people living with the condition can suffer symptoms for up to a year or more after infection.

The study involved 988 people who responded to an online questionnaire that looked at their quality of life and well-being, and helped provide a snapshot of the toll that long-Covid is taking.

It found that more than two in three respondents who were infected with Covid reported continuing fatigue, post-exertional malaise, palpitations, chest pain, stomach upset, nausea, memory issues, muscle pain or joint pain.

The study was carried out by APC Microbiome Ireland, based at University College Cork, in conjunction with Cork University Hospital and Long Covid Advocacy Ireland. It has been published in HRB Open Research.

The number of people with long-Covid in Ireland is unknown but the HSE estimates that 10-20pc of people can experience lingering symptoms for weeks or months following infection.

The research said studies show it can be up to 30pc with the majority of people improving over time but symptoms persist for a large number of people for more than a year.

The findings come as the Dáil is set to debate the impact of long-Covid and the requirement for specialist services this week.

In this latest study the median number of long-Covid symptoms self-reported was eight for each person, “highlighting the substantial burden of this disease”.

The median duration of symptoms was “12 months” but they ranged up to 20 months since infection.

“At the time of completing the survey, 89pc of respondents reported they had not returned to their pre-Covid-19 level of health,” it added.

The study found 29pc-45pc of participants reported moderate levels of anxiety and depression and “concerningly, 17pc reported thoughts of self-harm or suicide”.

The anonymous participants – all aged over 18 – were surveyed from September last year up to January 24 last.

The majority, 81pc, had a PCR-confirmed virus and 3pc were positive after an antigen test but 16pc had neither test.

A high proportion of long-Covid patients reported that they still have a moderate-to-severe limitation in being able to carry out their usual daily activities.

Nearly four in 10 were severely limited in their ability to work, and six in 10 missed work at some point due to the condition.

At the time of the survey, 16pc were still not back at work and were receiving social welfare payments.

Professor Liam O’Mahony, APC principal investigator, said the survey highlights how Covid-19 not only affects the lungs but can have “significant long-term effects on multiple organ systems” following the clearance of the virus in many people who were otherwise healthy.

“This survey highlights that SARS-CoV-2 infection not only impacts the lungs but can have significant long-term effects on multiple organ systems following clearance of the acute SARS-CoV-2 infection in many Irish people who were otherwise healthy previously.

“The reasons why some people develop long-Covid and others do not are still unclear.

“While many different biological mechanisms have been proposed, we are focusing on the role of the immune system and the microbiome in these complicated disease processes,” he said.

“The majority of people surveyed had a mild-moderate severity of initial Covid-19 disease, and the majority did not require hospital treatment at that time. A wide range of body systems are impacted by long-Covid... fatigue is the single most frequent symptom reported.”

More than half of subjects found it difficult to access support services.

The authors pointed to limitations in the study, in that the participants were self-selected, symptoms were self-reported and there was no control group.

It comes as the first major parliamentary debate on the impact of long-Covid will take place on Wednesday.

The Regional Group of TDs will table a Dáil motion seeking the rollout of specialist services to support long-Covid patients. Some clinics are in place but are understaffed with waiting times for up to five months.

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