New research suggests at least 17 million people across Europe and Central Asia suffered from long-term Covid within the first two years of the pandemic.
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At least 17 million people in Europe suffered from “long Covid” in the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study published by the World Health Organization on Tuesday.
About 10% to 20% of all Covid-19 cases reported across the region in 2020 and 2021 resulted in lasting effects that lasted at least three months, with symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue to brain fog and shortness of breath, it said the report.
Women were also twice as likely as men to have long-term illnesses from Covid. Among the severe cases that led to hospitalization, one in three women developed long-term symptoms.
The study, conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine, covers the WHO Europe region, which is home to nearly 900 million people in 53 countries in Europe and Central Asia.
Long Covid refers to a range of medium and long-term effects that can occur after a Covid infection. These can include fatigue, shortness of breath, and cognitive dysfunction such as confusion and forgetfulness.
The mental health of some people can also be directly or indirectly affected.
While the majority of people fully recover from Covid, Dr. Hans Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said the findings underscore the urgent need for more analysis and investment in monitoring the long-lasting effects of the disease.
“Millions of people in our region, which stretches across Europe and Central Asia, are suffering from debilitating symptoms many months after their first Covid-19 infection,” Kluge said.
“You can’t go on suffering in silence,” he continued. “Governments and health partners need to work together to find solutions based on research and evidence.”
Cases of long Covid rose more than 300% in 2021 compared to 2020, consistent with the protracted nature of the disease, the study says.
An estimated 145 million people worldwide developed Long Covid in 2020 and 2021, according to IHME data.
The Director of IHME, Dr. Christopher Murray said the findings should also raise awareness of the impact of long Covid on mental health and well-being in the workplace.
“Knowing how many people are affected and for how long is important for health systems and government agencies to develop rehabilitation and support services,” Murray said.