Credit: Quiony Navarro /

What if Long Covid is…. mainly imaginary?

I know a chap who once believed himself to have contracted Ebola. The dreadful virus was in the news at the time. He came to this conclusion after consulting Doctor Google as he had come down with a fever, missed hurling training and had a bad headache that even six paracetamol and a naggin of John Jameson had failed to kick. When I put it to him that he might just have the flu, he responded with what he believed was a clinching argument.

“Yes, but I’ve been away.”

“You were in Sweden.”

Anyway, he is still with us somewhere. Probably laid low with Long Ebola or Beri Beri disease contracted in the swamps of north Tipperary.

Which is not to suggest that everyone who thinks that they have Long Covid is cut from the same cloth as my chum.

However, new research from the Office for National Statistics in Britain suggests that, as the Telegraph reported, “more than half of people suffering from long Covid may not have the condition and may just be suffering from normal bouts of ill health”.

While 5% of the 27,000 who were surveyed and who had had Covid claimed to still have had at least one symptom of the virus between 12 and 16 weeks after becoming infected, this figure was not significantly greater than the 3.4% of those who had not been infected who reported similar symptoms.

Among the effects reported were headaches, tiredness, fever, fatigue and others that are commonly associated with other manifestations of ill health, or just feeling “under the weather,” as it used to be. Or even with a “bad dose of the flu” which might have required one to stay in bed for a day or two before the flu more or less – and possibly having met its match – decided to leave humanity alone.

What is significant is that the group which had been infected was far more likely to report the persistence of such symptoms. Which is where the whole notion of Long Covid originates. Some studies have suggested that up to 20% of those who have recovered from the virus will continue to experience similar symptoms for a period after recovery.

The problem is of course that much of that has to be subjective, and that lingering symptoms might be evidence of over worrying or even have psychosomatic causes. It is after all easy enough to convince oneself that you might have some relatively mild condition – serious conditions tend to be rather more pressing on one’s consciousness – and it would be interesting to know how many of those who report to doctors or for testing have convinced themselves that they have Covid when they do not. We all of us probably know of serial testers.

The Office for National Statistics own research would suggest that the entire concept of Long Covid and certainly its prevalence is open to interrogation. They have dramatically revised the 12 week prevalence of Covid symptoms among those who have had the virus downward from 14% to 3%. Much of this they attribute to a different interpretation of what in fact does constitute evidence of a lingering condition.

None of this of course is meant to deny that the virus exists, nor that some people will experience serious illness, but there is obviously a grey area where the virus can be similar in impact and symptoms to other more common ailments. The extent to which this is the case is still under review, as is obvious from the changing statistical picture.


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