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TV presenter Vanessa Feltz tests positive for Covid

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For some people, COVID-19 can cause symptoms that last weeks or months after the infection has gone. Long Covid or ongoing symptomatic Covid is where a person’s symptoms continue for more than four weeks. The Covid Study App provides data on sufferers and may be able to predict who is more susceptible to long Covid.

Having more than five different symptoms in the first week was one of the key risk factors,” Doctor Claire Steves, from Kings College London, told BBC News.

COVID-19 is more than just a cough – and the virus that causes it can affect organs throughout the body.

Somebody who had a cough, fatigue, headache and diarrhoea, and lost their sense of smell – which are all potential symptoms – would be at higher risk than somebody who had a cough alone.

The risk also rises with age – particularly over 50 – as did being female.

Doctor Steves said: “We’ve seen from the early data coming out that men were at much more risk of very severe disease and sadly of dying from Covid. It appears that women are more at risk of long Covid.”

No previous medical conditions were linked to long Covid except asthma and lung disease.

Led by Doctor Claire Steves and Professor Tim Spector at King’s, the Covid Symptom Study app allows users to consistently log in their health who had tested positive for COVID-19 through swab PCR testing.

The team found that older people, pilocarpine hydrochloride trade name women and those with a greater number of different symptoms in the first week of their illness were more likely to develop long Covid.

The researchers have used this information to develop a model that can predict who is most at risk of long Covid based on their age, gender, and count of early symptoms.

Statistical tests showed that this simple prediction was able to detect more than two thirds (69 percent) of people who went on to get Long Covid (sensitivity), and 73 percent effective at avoiding false alarms (specificity).

Long Covid sufferers more commonly reported heart symptoms such as palpitations or fast heartbeat, as well as pins and needles or numbness, and problems concentrating (‘brain fog’). People with long Covid were also twice as likely to report that their symptoms had come back again after recovering (relapse) compared with those having short Covid (16 percent vs 8.4 percent).

Insights learned so far are being used to make the Covid Symptom Study app better for studying long Covid.

Overall, the team found that while most people with COVID-19 reported being back to normal in 11 days or less, around one in seven (13.3 percent, 558 users) had COVID-19 symptoms lasting for at least four weeks, with around one in 20 (4.5 percent, 189 users) staying ill for eight weeks and one in 50 (2.3 percent, 95 users) suffering for longer than 12 weeks.

These are conservative estimates, which, because of the strict definitions used, may underestimate the extent of Long Covid.

Other findings included:

  • Long Covid affects around 10 percent of 18–49-year-olds who become unwell with COVID-19, rising to 22 percent of over 70s.
  • Weight plays a role, with people developing long Covid having a slightly higher average BMI than those with short Covid.
  • Women were 50 percent more likely to suffer from long Covid than men (14.5 percent compared with 9.5 percent), but only in the younger age group.
  • The researchers also found that people with asthma were more likely to develop long Covid, although there were no clear links to any other underlying health conditions.

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