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17 million in Europe experienced long COVID, says WHO

September 13, 2022

The World Health Organization found up to 20% of Europeans with COVID-19 developed long-term effects like fatigue and cognitive dysfunction, with women are twice as likely to develop long COVID as men.

A patient is treated for COVID-19 in an intensive care unit in Germany
Researchers found that those with severe infection that required hospitalization were more likely to develop long COVIDImage: Lennart Preiss/AFP/Getty Images

The World Health Organization's (WHO) European offices said on Tuesday that some 17 million people in Europe experienced COVID-19 symptoms long after having recovered from the disease.

The condition, known as long COVID, produces a various range of symptoms for at least three months after infection. 

The results from the study were based on a model created by the University of Washington, which studied cases in the WHO's 53 European member states during the first two years of the pandemic, 2020 and 2021.

"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.

"While we still have a lot to learn about long COVID, this data highlights the urgent need for more analysis, more investment, more support, and more solidarity with those who experience this condition," Kluge said.

Although most people who become infected with COVID-19 fully recover from the virus, the WHO in Europe's report has estimated that 10% to 20% develop mid- and long-term symptoms such as fatigue, breathlessness and cognitive dysfunction.

Women more susceptible to long COVID

Globally, it is estimated that some 145 million people suffered from long COVID symptoms in the first two years of the pandemic.

The Europe study found that the probability of contracting long COVID is twice as high in women as in men, the WHO said.

The research also found that the chances of developing long COVID are very high for those who suffer a severe coronavirus infection requiring hospitalization for treatment. 

But gender also made a difference. One in three affected women and one in five affected men developed long COVID symptoms after suffering a severe COVID infection.

"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.

jcg/wd (dpa, AP)