While most people who develop COVID-19 fully recover, it is estimated that 10–20% go on to develop what is now known as long COVID. This condition involves a variety of mid- and long-term symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness and lack of mental focus. While the science behind long COVID is still unclear, a new WHO/Europe factsheet collects existing evidence on the condition and its often-debilitating effect on people’s lives.
Post COVID-19 condition
Post COVID-19 condition, also known as long COVID, can arise irrespective of the severity of the COVID-19 infection, the circulating variant of the virus, or the person’s age. Evidence shows that it usually arises 3 months from the onset of COVID-19, with symptoms lasting at least 2 months. Long COVID affects all age groups, and symptoms can emerge in people who were previously fit and healthy. WHO has also received reports of the condition occurring more frequently in women than men.
The condition can be debilitating, causing disabling symptoms and functional deficits. It can significantly impact people’s ability to work, engage and participate fully in family and community life. Mental health effects can directly result from long COVID, but may also develop due to prolonged suffering and distress caused by the condition.
This is why WHO/Europe is urging countries and national authorities to make support available in communities, close to people’s homes and places of work, as well as for those who are hospitalized.
A new WHO/Europe factsheet points out that people’s recovery should draw on a wide range of support mechanisms, including from family, peers and employers. Tailored rehabilitation can go a long way in supporting people living with long COVID, especially as they seek to recover and return to their daily routines.
The WHO-produced patient leaflet “Support for rehabilitation self-management after COVID-19-related illness” has been a particularly useful tool to thousands of patients across the WHO European Region. WHO/Europe continues to work with partners and patient groups in the Region to accelerate research, develop rehabilitation resources and provide technical guidance.
Governments and health services should act now to provide evidence-based interventions for all long COVID patients to ensure a tailored, safe and supported recovery that reduces long-term disability.