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question marks Suggestion that 114,500 people have long-term Covid effects is ‘underestimate’, says consultant

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A healthcare worker prepares a vaccine. Photo: stock image

A healthcare worker prepares a vaccine. Photo: stock image

A healthcare worker prepares a vaccine. Photo: stock image

Figures suggesting around 114,500 people who got coronavirus have had long Covid, or will suffer long-term debilitating effects of coronavirus infection, are probably an underestimate, a leading consultant warned yesterday.

Prof Seamus Linnane, a respiratory consultant who set up the country’s first long Covid clinic, also warned of the legacy of Covid-19 infection from over two years of the pandemic in many working-age people in particular, who are left with a range of symptoms including fatigue, shortness of breath and joint pain.

He was speaking after Independent TD Denis Naughton, who asked the Oireachtas Library and Research Service to investigate, was told that around 114,500 have suffered long Covid or will do so based on around 10pc of the official number infected.

Prof Linnane, who runs his clinic at the Beacon Hospital in south Dublin, said however, that various published studies show it can range from 5pc up to 90pc of people who get the virus.

“It is a big range but I think the 10pc is conservative and at the lower end.”

He said it was also clear, particularly during the current Omicron wave, that the recorded level of daily infections did not capture everyone who got the virus and the extent of infection was much higher. “We see people in our clinic who have all the expected symptoms but for whatever reason did not have a swab but they clearly had infection.”

He said there is a need for a multi-disciplinary approach to treating long Covid including psychological supports and occupational therapy.

The return to offices could bring issues around employers’ recognition of the condition to the surface. Women are more likely to be affected than men, he added.

The experience so far is that the further people are along from their infection the more likely they are to get better, but a minority will have persistent symptoms, particularly fatigue.

Prof Robert Byrne, cardiologist at the Mater Private Hospital, Dublin, and chair of cardiovascular research at the Royal College of Surgeons, said there is a need for Ireland to have a central data collection on long Covid to provide answers to questions.

“We have been living through an infodemic so some of the studies have been done quite hastily. Some of the questions have not been well answered and we are still learning.”

He said his experience is that most patients come out the “far end” in around six to nine months but a small proportion suffer for longer.

He pointed to research published by the Office for National Statistics in the UK this week suggesting vaccination could reduce the risk of long Covid. The study, of more than 6,000 adults, found those who were double-vaccinated had a 41pc lower likelihood of self-reporting Covid symptoms 12 weeks after first testing positive.

“The fact Ireland had high levels of vaccination might point to grounds for optimism that long Covid after getting the Omicron variant may be less,” he said.

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It comes as 9,591 more cases of Covid-19 were reported yesterday, including 4,482 home antigen tests. There were 707 Covid-19 patients in hospital, down one from Thursday and a drop of 185 in the past week. Of these, 69 are in intensive care, a fall of two in a day.

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