Long COVID impacts up to 30% of infected patients

Long COVID impacts up to 30 percent of patients - Newsreel
An estimated 39 million people across the OECD have experienced "long COVID" symptoms, a new study has found. | Photo: People images (iStock)

An estimated 39 million people have experienced “long COVID” across the OECD, representing between 10 and 30 percent of people who contracted the infection.

An OECD Health Working Paper released this week said up to a third of people with COVID displayed “persistent cognitive symptoms” that lasted more than 12 weeks.

“Long COVID can severely limit people’s ability to undertake basic activities of daily life and can dramatically hamper quality of life,” the report The impacts of long COVID across OECD countries said.

“Even conservative estimates of long COVID prevalence would indicate that long COVID may be reducing the workforce by nearly 3 million workers across OECD countries, amounting to an economic cost of at least $US141 billion from lost wages alone.

“Moreover, even among those who were able to return to the labour force, a significant proportion reported needing to reduce the number of hours they worked, compared to before their infection.”

The report said the figures suggested more than seven million “quality-adjusted life years” may be lost annually across OECD countries due to the condition.

“Even excluding the direct costs of health care, long COVID is likely costing OECD countries as much as $US864 billion – $US1.04 trillion per year due to reductions in quality of life and labour force participation,” it said.

The authors said the findings supported the need for sustainable investment in long COVID research.

There was also a need for standardised measures of symptoms and functional impact to support a more precise definition of long COVID and its severity.

Across the OECD only four countries said they had national estimates of long COVID prevalence in their country.

“While most countries had adopted definitions of long COVID that were broadly in line with WHO and NICE guidelines, important differences still emerged in how countries interpreted the condition,” the report said.

“A more systematic and consistent definition and uptake of long COVID coding…is needed to support the development of standardised surveillance infrastructure and facilitate the comparative epidemiological assessment of long COVID.”

The report said long COVID could further exacerbate inequalities.

Evidence from some countries suggested that certain groups – including populations with lower education attainment, and those living in more deprived areas – might be at greater risk of developing long COVID, and of experiencing more severe symptoms.

“At least 22 OECD countries have set up dedicated long COVID clinics,” the report said.

“Nevertheless, demand for long COVID services such as multidisciplinary clinics appears to exceed available supply, with long waiting times reported in some countries.”