Immunologist warns that the number of patients reporting symptoms of Covid-19 weeks after becoming ill could be as high as 20%.
Professor Danny Altmann, from Imperial College London, said that a figure reported in October, of one in 20 people suffering from long Covid, is much lower than what is now being reported.
“Many people would have 10-20% as their range if you look at the papers on how many people are still reporting significant symptoms several months afterwards,” he added.
Prof Altmann is calling for long Covid clinics to be opened in the UK and recently made the case at a World Health Organisation meeting.
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He said: “The point I was trying to make was really a call to arms for some really good solid research and mechanisms here, because there’s no point just having the banner above the clinic if we haven’t got the doctors to sit in them.”
Prof Altmann warned that there is “no absolute correlation” between severe illness and long Covid, adding: “There’s plenty of people out there who barely know they had it and never had a PCR test or antibody test who are suffering massively still from long Covid.
“It really worries me, the kind of burden I’ve been suggesting is equivalent to our NHS burden of arthritis, which is one of the biggest causes on our NHS time and expenditure.
“It’s a real thing to worry and think about for the future, for patients and healthcare planning.”
However, he did express his optimism with figures now showing a decrease of patients in UK hospitals with Covid-19, from 39,000 in mid-January to 25,621 as of February 9.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the UK could live with coronavirus in the future in the same way as the flu and hoped Covid-19 will become a treatable disease by the end of the year.
Prof Altmann said: “I agree with the ‘by the end of the year’ part, I think the jury’s out on what the future will look like.”
On news of the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals going down, he said: “We can’t easily pick apart how much of that is lockdown, how much is vaccination, but it’s certainly both of those things.
“I am cautiously optimistic that we are winning, finally.”
Symptoms of long Covid include ongoing fatigue, loss of taste or smell, respiratory and cardiovascular problems and mental health issues.