Wednesday, 29 May, 2024
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WHO estimates 17m long COVID cases in Europe and urges action

A possible 17m people experienced long COVID in the first two years of the pandemic in Europe, new modelling conducted for the World Health Organisation has shown, as it calls for countries to take the condition seriously by investing in research, recovery and rehabilitation.

The research, carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the United States, estimated the burden of long COVID in 2020 and 2021 by looking at a literature review and cohort studies from several countries with access to individual level data. Long COVID symptoms were grouped around three symptom clusters: respiratory, cognitive and fatigue or mood swings.

The modelling found that females were twice as likely as males to experience long COVID, classified as symptoms lasting at least three months. The risk increases dramatically among severe COVID cases needing hospital admission, with one in three females and one in five males likely to develop long COVID.

A recent study published in The Lancet reported that one in eight (12.7%) patients with COVID-19 was likely to experience long term symptoms.

It is too early to estimate the long COVID burden in the European region this year, but a recent UK study found that the Omicron variant was less likely to result in long COVID symptoms than the Delta variant. However,  the WHO warned that, given the high transmissibility of Omicron and its rapid spread, a correspondingly large number of people was likely to be developing long COVID.

“The data highlighted the urgent need for more analysis, more investment, more support, and more solidarity with those who experience this condition,” said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe, speaking at a WHO Regional Committee for Europe meeting in Tel Aviv, Israel.

“We need all countries in the WHO European region to recognise that long COVID is a serious problem, with serious consequences, and requires a serious response to stop the lives of those affected from getting any worse – and not just on a physical health level.

“We hear stories of so many individual tragedies, of people in financial crisis, facing relationship problems, losing their jobs, and falling into depression. Many health workers who risked their lives on the front lines of the pandemic now have this chronic and debilitating condition as a result of infection acquired in the workplace.

“They, and millions of others, need our support. The consequences of long COVID are clearly severe and multifaceted.”

WHO Europe is officially partnering with Long COVID Europe, an organisation with 19 patient associations across member states in the European region.


The Lancet article – Persistence of somatic symptoms after COVID-19 in the Netherlands: an observational cohort study (Open access)


The BMJ article – Covid-19: WHO urges action as 17 million long covid cases are estimated in Europe (Open access)


IHME article – WHO: At least 17 million people in the WHO European Region experienced long COVID in the first two years of the pandemic; millions may have to live with it for years to come (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


One in eight adults likely to develop long COVID symptoms – Dutch study


Scientists warn of hidden crisis as suicides potentially linked to long COVID


One in every eight adults likely infected with long COVID, large study finds


Preliminary results from two UK studies suggest significant heart inflammation from COVID




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