Tens of thousands of people are suffering long-Covid symptoms more than a year after infection, say researchers who carried out the UKs largest study of the impact of the virus.

A survey of a quarter of a million people taking part in the REACT study found while most people recover within 12 weeks, 7.5% of people had persistent symptoms for more three months and 5% reported symptoms lasting more than a year.

But people infected in the Omicron wave of the pandemic were 88% less likely to experience symptoms longer than four weeks after infection, compared to earlier wave, the study found, which could be due to immunity building up in the population and vaccination.

The new analysis, published in Nature Communications, also highlighted how persistent symptoms of Covid were related to worse mental health and quality of life.

Being female, already having more than one comorbidity, being from a deprived area, and being infected with an original strain of Covid were all related with higher risk of symptoms lasting more than 12 weeks and longer recovery time in those with persistent symptoms, the researchers said.

The survey results – which were collected in towards the end of 2022 – show a snapshot of the continued impact of Covid-19 in the UK, the Imperial College London team noted.

Mild fatigue, difficulty thinking or concentrating and joint pains were the most common ongoing symptoms. But others reported loss or change of sense of smell or taste, shortness of breath, severe fatigue, chest tightness or pain, and poor memory.

Almost a third of people reporting symptoms at 12 weeks will have recovered within a year, the researchers found.

Professor Paul Elliott, chair in epidemiology and public health medicine at Imperial College London, said: ‘We find that the variant of SARS-CoV-2 people are infected with, the initial severity of their symptoms, and whether they have pre-existing health conditions all have an impact on whether they will develop lasting symptoms.’

Study lead Dr Christina Atchison, principal clinical academic fellow within the School of Public Health said while the landscape has changed considerably since the early peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, this analysis shows that a proportion of adults are still experiencing lasting symptoms.

‘Importantly, we find that compared to wild type virus, those infected when Omicron was dominant were far less likely to report symptoms lasting beyond 12 weeks.

‘This may reflect the changing levels of immunity in the population from previous exposure to the virus and vaccination.’

The team is now doing detailed interviews with some of those affected with ongoing symptoms to further understand the variation in people’s experiences and the impact on their everyday lives as well as the broader longer-term impact of the pandemic on health and wellbeing of those who took part in REACT.

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