Long Covid: 1.3 million people in the UK living with condition - the highest number on record

  • Words by ITV News Content Producer Jocelyn Evans

Around 1.3 million people in the UK are living with long Covid new data suggests, the highest number since estimates began.

The latest ONS figures equate to one in every 50 people suffering the long term effects of coronavirus.

More than a million of those impacted first contracted the virus, or suspected they had it, at least one year ago.

What is long Covid?

Long Covid describes a range of symptoms that persist for more than four weeks after being infected with the virus. Symptoms vary but include fatigue, muscle pain and difficulty concentrating, or "brain fog".

From the latest figures, based on self-reporting from a representative sample of people in private households, fatigue continues to be the most common symptom - experienced by 51%.

Loss of smell was the second most common (37%), followed by shortness of breath (36%) and difficulty concentrating (28%).

Other symptoms that have been linked to Long Covid include "brain fog", a lack of concentration, mental health problems and even hair loss among some "long haulers". 

'There are some things that I just can't smell anymore'

Rosanna has been living with the after effects of Covid since contracting the virus just before the first lockdown in March 2020.

Loss of smell and taste was, at the time, not on the NHS symptoms list but hit Rosanna hard, they told ITV News. They regained both senses two weeks later, only to notice a "distinct change" a few weeks on.

Their GP diagnosed them with parosmia, the loss or distortion of smell. Prescribed nasal steroids had no impact, so Rosanna turned to the Abscent charity which provided a smell training kit.

Long Covid has ruined the smell of coffee for some people.

Nearly two years on, Rosanna is still experiencing a "massively distorted" sense of smell.

"There are some things that I just can't smell anymore - I have to ask my friends what they can smell when I'm cooking to try and regain that.

"I worked in coffee shops for about seven years of my life and the smell of coffee for a time literally repulsed me. Now it just smells like old burnt rubber and chemicals - which is gutting.

"I'm the child of a chef, I grew up in restaurants around food, and I now don't enjoy the taste of most strong things - particularly flavours like garlic and onions, coffee.

"Most vegetables have the same rotted chemical taste that coffee does - things like peppers, broccoli, green beans, anything that is green all tastes the same."

"The thing I miss most is not really the food, it's having smell memories. I realised I missed it because I had my first one in about a year and a half a few months ago when I smelled wet dog - and it smelled like it used to! I remembered having dogs as a kid and all the things that are linked to certain smells."

Who is getting Long Covid?

People working in teaching and education showed a greater prevalence of self-reported long Covid than other professions, and also saw the biggest month-on-month increase, from 2.7% to 3.1%.

For people working in health care the figure dropped from 3.3% to 3.0%, and for people in social care it fell from 3.6% to 3.4%.

Among age groups the biggest jumps were for children aged 12 to 16, where prevalence rose month-on-month from 1.4% to 1.9%, and for 35 to 49-year-olds, up from 2.6% to 2.8%.

The latest data doesn't take into account the recent surge in Covid infections, driven by the Omicron variant, which has seen daily reported case reach record highs.

These responses were collected in the four weeks to December 6 - before the variant really took off.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Though there is ongoing research into the condition, one thing medical experts and scientists agree upon is there remains a lot of unknowns.

Dr Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners and a GP at a practice in Newham, told ITV News earlier this year that Long Covid is "going to be a real challenge" for the health service as well as patients.  

One area medicine and science is looking at is a link between Long Covid and other post-viral illnesses like ME, but at the moment, as Dr Marshall says "we're not quite sure what works, because it hasn't been around for long enough".

The NHS offers a Covid-19 rehab service for people who have been suffering with the long-term effects of the virus.

Your Covid Recovery Service initially launched online but it will become a face-to-face portal when safe to do so.