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At least 17M in Europe had long COVID in first 2 years of pandemic: WHO

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GUANGZHOU, CHINA - MAY 2: A man gives sample for nucleic acid testing at a temporary Covid-19 testing site in Guangzhou, Guangdong province of China on May 2, 2022. ( Stringer - Anadolu Agency )
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Sep 16, 2022 - 09:15 AM

GENEVA (AA) – At least 17 million people in Europe experienced long COVID in first two years of the pandemic, and millions may have to live with it for years to come, the World Health Organization said on Tuesday.

The data is based on new modeling conducted for WHO/Europe by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in the US, the WHO Regional Office for Europe said in a statement.

It also suggests females are twice as likely as males to experience long COVID, and the risk increases dramatically among severe COVID-19 cases, said the WHO.

The study looked at individuals across the 53 states of the WHO European region who may have experienced the post-COVID-19 condition, also known as long COVID.

Debilitating symptoms

“Millions of people in our region, straddling Europe and Central Asia, are suffering debilitating symptoms many months after their initial COVID-19 infection,” said Hans Kluge, WHO regional director for Europe.

“They cannot continue to suffer in silence. Governments and health partners must collaborate to find solutions based on research and evidence,” Kluge said from the 72nd WHO Regional Committee for Europe in Tel Aviv, Israel.

There is still much to learn about long COVID, especially how it presents in vaccinated versus unvaccinated populations and impacts re-infections.

“This data highlights the urgent need for more analysis, more investment, more support, and more solidarity with those who experience this condition,” said Kluge.

The modeling indicates a staggering 307% increase in new long COVID cases identified between 2020 and 2021, driven by the rapid increase in confirmed coronavirus cases from late 2020 and throughout 2021.

The WHO said the research shows nearly 145 million people worldwide in the first two years of the pandemic suffered from any of three symptom clusters of long COVID.

Fatigue, bodily pain

They are fatigue, bodily pain, mood swings, cognitive problems, and shortness of breath.

“Fast forward, and millions of people continue to suffer because of COVID’s lingering impact on their health and livelihoods,” said Christopher Murray, director of IHME, one of the WHO’s 800 collaborating centers.

He said it is paramount for employers to understand so that special accommodations can be made to help those facing limitations.

Post-COVID-19 condition or long COVID refers collectively to the constellation of long-term symptoms that some people experience after COVID-19.

While most people who develop COVID-19 fully recover, it is estimated that 10-20% develop a variety of mid- and long-term effects like fatigue, breathlessness, and cognitive dysfunction.

That includes, for example, confusion, forgetfulness, or a lack of mental focus and clarity.

Long COVID can also, directly and indirectly, affect mental health, according to the WHO.

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