JERUSALEM — New research suggests at least 17 million people in the European Union may have experienced Long COVID-19 symptoms during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic, with women more likely than men to suffer from the condition, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.
Research conducted by WHO/Europe was not clear on the prevalence of symptoms that persist, recur, or first occur at least one month following a coronavirus infected. At least 17 million people met the WHO’s criteria of Long COVID-19—with symptoms lasting at least three months in 2020 and 2021, the report said.
“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 Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe, during a conference in Tel Aviv.
Modeling also shows that Long COVID-19 is twice as common in women than it is for men. This risk rises dramatically when severe infections require hospitalization. The report found that Long COVID-19 will likely affect 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men.
“Knowing how many people are affected and for how long is important for health systems and government agencies to develop rehabilitative and support services,” said Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, which conducted the research for the WHO.
Learn More: The COVID could be long-standing and you may not have even known it.
These estimates are not the actual number of people affected by coronavirus, so this research tracks well with recent studies about longer-term symptoms following infection.
An American study about veterans was published in Nature MedicineIn May, new evidence was presented that Long COVID-19 could occur even in cases of breakthrough infection in people who were vaccinated. This is a warning sign that the risks to long-term health for older persons are higher. Long COVID was found in about one-third of the people who developed breakthrough infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also reported that 1 out of 4 people 65 and over had at least one Long COVID-19-related health issue up to 1 year after their initial coronavirus infections. This compares with 1 in 5 for younger adults.
COVID-19 patients generally recover fully. The WHO in Europe reported Tuesday that between 10% and 20% of those affected by COVID-19 experience long-term effects such as fatigue and breathlessness.
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