Long Covid proves the coronavirus can 'strike us all'

‘Long Covid shows this virus can strike us all… and we must strike back’: Hancock says ‘many thousands’ of young Brits suffering with lingering symptoms shows how disease doesn’t just prey on elderly as he announces 40 NHS clinics to tackle condition

  • The Health Secretary said long Covid was proof the virus is a threat to everyone
  • He said even the young and healthy are suffering long-term symptoms
  • Curbing the spread of the coronavirus will limit damage, Mr Hancock suggested
  • He confirmed 40 NHS clinics will be set up by the end of November 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has warned the ‘many thousands of people suffering from long Covid’ highlights how the virus does not just prey on the elderly. 

As many as 60,000 people of all ages in the UK are thought to be suffering from long-lasting effects of coronavirus, which linger after the original illness has cleared up.

Speaking at the Downing Street briefing this evening, Mr Hancock said it demonstrated how the ‘virus can strike us all, and we must all do our bit to strike back.’

He said even the young and healthy are suffering symptoms months after their coronavirus illness. These include fatigue, breathlessness and brain problems. 

Mr Hancock confirmed at least 43 NHS mini-hospitals are to be established in England to help those suffering from long Covid.

The centres will offer support to as many as 500,000 people thought to be suffering prolonged effects of the virus, including breathlessness, fatigue and anxiety. He said up to 40 of them will open next month,

Matt Hancock said the ‘many thousands of people suffering from long Covid’ shows the virus can ‘strike us all’

Ten sites are already earmarked for the Midlands, seven in the North East, six each in the East of England, South West and South East, five in London and three in the North West.

A person will need a referral from a GP or other healthcare professional to access the service. 

About five per cent of those who get coronavirus experience symptoms that last for 12 weeks or more, according to research by King’s College London. It is double that for those under the age of 50.

More than two-thirds of those hospitalised because of the virus suffer from debilitating symptoms more than seven weeks after being discharged, a study in the medical journal Thorax reported.

Mr Hancock said: ‘[The] threat is not just to the oldest and most vulnerable, but of anyone of any age from any background.

Covid-19 is described as a short-term illness caused by infection with the novel SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus. Public health officials tend to say people will recover within two weeks or so. 

However it’s become increasingly clear that this is not the case for everyone, and that the two-week period is only the ‘acute illness’ phase.

The North Bristol NHS Trust’s Discover project, which is studying the longer-term effects of coronavirus, found that out of a total of 110 patients given a three-month check up, most (74 per cent) had at least one persistent symptom after twelve weeks. The most common were:

  • Excessive fatigue: 39%
  • Breathlessness: 39%
  • Insomnia: 24%  
  • Muscle pain: 23%
  • Chest pain: 13%
  • Cough: 12%
  • Loss of smell: 12%
  • Headache, fever, joint pain and diarrhoea: Each less than 10% 

Other long term symptoms that have been reported by Covid-19 survivors, both suspected and confirmed, anecdotally, include hearing problems, ‘brain fog’, memory loss, lack of concentration, mental health problems and hair loss.

The impact of Long Covid on people who had mild illness have not been studied in depth yet.  

Data from the King’s College London symptom tracking app shows that up to 500,000 people in the UK are currently suffering from the long-term effects of Covid-19.

In October, scientists claimed Long Covid could actually be split into four different syndromes.  

Academics at the National Institute for Health Research — headed up by Professor Chris Whitty — were asked to review the limited evidence on long Covid to help both patients and doctors understand the ‘phenomenon’. 

Their findings warned that even children can suffer and it can’t be assumed that people who are at lower risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19 are also at low risk of lasting side effects.

Doctors cautioned some mental health problems such as anxiety and depression in ‘long-haulers’, as they are known, could be down to lockdowns, as opposed to the virus itself. 

The experts also claimed that the symptoms could be grouped into four different groups: 

  • Post intensive care syndrome (PICS)
  • Post viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) 
  • Permanent organ damage (POD)  
  • Long term Covid syndrome (LTCS) 

‘We’ve already seen the serious impact that long Covid can have on people’s quality of life, even the fit ant the young.

‘Symptoms like fatigue and breathlessness, muscle pain and neurological problems, long after they first had the virus. And we know long Covid affects thousands of people, many thousands of people.’

He added: ‘We’ve already opened long Covid clinics in many parts of the country. I am very pleased to confirm that the NHS will have a network of 40 long Covid clinic right across England in place by the end of this month.

‘They will bring together doctors, nurses, therapists and the other NHS staff like physios to help those suffering the long term effects of coronavirus. Long Covid shows that this virus can strike us all, and we must all do our bit to strike back, by following the rules and denying the virus the connections it needs to spread

‘I know this hasn’t been easy.’

After news broke of the long Covid clinics on Sunday, Sir Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: ‘Long Covid is already having a very serious impact on many people’s lives and could well go on to affect hundreds of thousands.

‘That is why, while treating rising numbers of patients who are sick with the virus and many more who do not have it, the NHS is taking action to address those suffering ongoing health issues.’

It follows a study from King’s College London which found older people, women and those with a number of different symptoms in the early stage of their illness were more likely to develop long Covid.

One in 10 were still unable to shake off the side effects eight weeks after infection, the study found.

Research of long Covid has flagged a huge list of problems, including excessive fatigue, breathlessness, insomnia, muscle pain, chest pain, a cough, loss of smell, headache, fever, joint pain and diarrhoea.

Because the issues span over several areas of health, the treatment will vary between those needing physical therapy, medicine and psychotherapy, experts say.

For example those with complaints of ‘brain fog’, causing difficulties with focus, concentration and memory, may be given a form of cognitive therapy.

While those with muscle pain would likely receive help from a physiotherapist. 

The details of how the clinics would work, and where the healthcare professionals will be sourced from, have not yet been outlined. 

In October, researchers said symptoms of long Covid appear to fall into four syndromes that require different treatments.

One of them was organ damage, which the team at the National Institute for Health Research said was most common in the lungs and heart.

The other three syndromes were post intensive care syndrome (PICS), post viral fatigue syndrome (PVFS) and long term Covid syndrome (LTC) – a range of ‘floating’ symptoms that are difficult to categorise.

Health officials have previously estimated that 60,000 people could be suffering with long-term after effects of Covid-19, while a Facebook support group has at least 35,000. 

Dr Elaine Maxwell, the lead author of the review from NIHR, said the exact figure is not clear.

But she added: ‘It’s reasonable to assume it’s larger than people have estimated already because there is a lot of people who have not had a Covid test and so have been excluded from assessments. 

‘It’s significant and it will be a significant burden on the NHS.    

‘There is likely to be a rise in the number of people with Long Covid in coming months.’ 

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