At least 17 million people in Europe suffered from “long Covid” within the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study released Tuesday by the World Health Organization.
Around 10% to 20% of all Covid-19 cases reported in 2020 and 2021 across the region resulted in lingering effects lasting at least three months, with symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue to brain fog and breathlessness, the report found.
Women were also twice as likely as men to experience long Covid. Among serious cases resulting in hospitalization, one in three women were found to develop long-term symptoms.
The research, which was conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine, pertains to the WHO’s Europe region, which is home to nearly 900 million people in 53 states across Europe and Central Asia.
Long Covid refers to a range of mid- and long-term effects that can emerge following a Covid infection. Those can include fatigue, breathlessness and cognitive dysfunction, such as confusion and forgetfulness.
Some people’s mental health can also be impacted, either directly or indirectly.
While the majority of people fully recover from Covid, Dr. Hans Kluge, the WHO’s regional director for Europe, said the findings highlight the urgent need for more analysis and investment in monitoring the drawn out effects of the illness.
“Millions of people in our region, straddling Europe and central Asia, are suffering debilitating symptoms many months after their initial Covid-19 infection,” Kluge said.
“They cannot continue to suffer in silence,” he continued. “Governments and health partners must collaborate to find solutions based on research and evidence.”
Cases of long Covid rose more than 300% in 2021 compared with 2020, in line with the drawn out nature of the illness, the study found.
Worldwide, 145 million people are estimated to have developed long Covid during 2020 and 2021, according to IHME data.
The director of IHME, Dr. Christopher Murray, said the findings should also raise awareness about the implications of long Covid for mental health and workplace wellbeing.
“Knowing how many people are affected and for how long is important for health systems and government agencies to develop rehabilitative and support services,” Murray said.