Story at a glance

  • The WHO reports that about 1 in 10 COVID-19 patients will deal with long-term symptoms, including fatigue and lung damage.
  • Researchers also noted a stigma some people face, and request more resources available for COVID-19 long-haulers.

A new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) writes that about 1 in 10 individuals who tested positive for COVID-19 will experience “long-hauler” symptoms, or symptoms of the illness that last more than 12 weeks following a patient’s recovery.

Published Thursday in the European branch of the global health body, researchers documented patients who contracted and recovered from the virus across different countries of the WHO European Region. They specifically focused on patients’ responses and how longer-term COVID-19 sufferers can get better help.

“COVID-19 has caused a great deal of suffering among people across the Region, with reports of long COVID an extra cause for concern,” WHO Regional Director for Europe Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge said. “It’s important that patients reporting with symptoms of long COVID are included as part of the COVID-19 response to mitigate some of the longer-term health impacts of the pandemic. This policy brief makes clear the need for policy-makers to take the lead on this issue.”

The term “COVID-19 long hauler” has been used frequently during the pandemic, and European doctors who authored the WHO brief say it is a common side effect of the virus.

Some of the lingering symptoms include severe fatigue and an increased risk of heart, brain and lung damage. 

Doctors also write that long-term COVID-19 sufferers face a stigma when getting help for lingering symptoms.

“People suffering with post-COVID conditions have reported feeling stigmatized as well as unable to access and navigate services,” the brief read. “They have struggled to have their cases taken seriously and get a diagnosis, received disjointed and siloed care, and found specialist care to be mostly inaccessible and variable across countries. There are also real problems with access to sickness and disability benefits.”

Long-term COVID-19 symptoms have made headlines recently as actress and entrepreneur Gwyneth Paltrow disclosed her diagnosis with COVID-19 and revealed she felt long-term symptoms, including brain fog and fatigue, both of which are commonly reported.

She credits intuitive fasting as helping her, which officials at England’s National Institute of Health (NHS) have disputed.

"We need to take long Covid seriously and apply serious science,” NHS Professor Stephen Powis commented. “All influencers who use social media have a duty of responsibility and a duty of care around that."

Published on Feb 25, 2021