We look at what the data from the COVID Symptom Study app is telling us about the number of people living with COVID-19 over the longer term, the symptoms they are experiencing, and whether they are still infectious.
How long does COVID-19 last?
Data from our COVID Symptom Study suggests that while most people recover from COVID-19 within two weeks, one in ten people may still have symptoms after three weeks, and some may suffer for months.
Our research shows that some people are experiencing fatigue, headaches, coughs, anosmia (loss of smell), sore throats, delirium, and chest pain for more than three weeks after first reporting symptoms in the app.
We spoke with Dr Rachel Pope, Senior Lecturer in European Prehistory at the University of Liverpool, who has been suffering from symptoms for 13 weeks.
“It started like a cold or flu,” she says. "By week four, most of the people around me who also had it, including my daughter and my former partner, got better.".
But although Rachel had improved during her fourth week, she got worse again in week 5 and her symptoms moved from her airways into her internal organs, resulting in heart problems that took her to A&E.
“The first time they thought I was having a stroke, and the second time they thought it was a heart attack,” she says.
Whether or not an individual is still infectious several weeks after first catching coronavirus depends on whether their symptoms are the result of an ongoing infection or damage that persists after their immune system has cleared the virus.
Rachel admits that she doesn’t know if she is still infectious.
“I personally think that there was still a viral tail up to week 11. I was still having quite violent diarrhoea at that point, so I think it was still viral.”
The NHS advises continuing to self-isolate if you have a temperature, runny nose, sickness, diarrhoea or loss of appetite, even if it has been more than 14 days since your symptoms started, as you may still have an active viral infection.
People with long-term COVID-19 are struggling to get back to normal life
“These people may be going back to work and not performing at the top of their game,” Prof Tim Spector told the Guardian. “There is a whole other side to the virus which has not had attention because of the idea that ‘if you are not dead you are fine.’”
People feeling long-lasting effects of COVID-19 are angry at the lack of information and support available.
“It’s great that we haven’t died, but I’ve now been suffering with serious health problems for three months with very limited support,” says Rachel.
The COVID Symptom Study app aims to help people like Rachel by understanding the long term health effects of the coronavirus pandemic. If you can relate to Rachel's experience, and could benefit from peer support, you can also check out this Facebook group .
We need as many people as possible to be using the app on a daily basis to log their health, even if you feel well or think you’ve already had COVID-19.
You can also set up user profiles for friends or family - including children - who aren’t able to use the app but still want to take part in this vital research project.
The lowdown on long-term COVID-19
Most people recover from mild COVID-19 within two weeks and more serious disease within three weeks
Some people suffer from the effects of the virus for much longer
The virus may cause damage to internal organs, resulting in long-term or potentially permanent health problems
There currently is little information and support available for people with long-term COVID-19
We need to gather ongoing data about the nation’s health to understand the long-term effects of this disease
To learn more and download the app so you can contribute to our research, visit covid.joinzoe.com/