Covid-19: symptoms, affected audiences… What an unpublished study on the long Covid in France reveals

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For the first time, Santé Publique France has conducted a large study on the long Covid phenomenon. More than 2 million people over the age of 18 would be affected. Fatigue, cough, loss of taste and smell… The symptoms are varied and affect all age groups. Decryption.

From March 22 to April 8, 2022, Santé Publique France (SPF) conducted a large survey on post-Covid disease, also called “Covid long”, and has just published the results. According to the definition of the World Health Organization (WHO), the long Covid generally appears within three months of the initial infection with Covid-19 and is characterized by persistent symptoms which, on the one hand, cannot be explained by other diagnoses and, on the other hand, have an impact on the daily life of those affected.

The main symptoms found in the majority of cases are fatigue, breathing difficulties, loss of taste or smell, memory/concentration problems, cough, or all kinds of pain (thoracic, muscular).

A total of 27,537 people aged 18 and over participated in the study. Based on this sample, 13% said they had contracted Covid at least three months ago, and 4% said they had persistent symptoms at least two months after their infection. Reduced to the general population over the age of 18, more than two million people would therefore be affected by a long Covid in mainland France.

“The long Covid multiplies the impact of the disease”

​​This study highlights the consequent health impact of Covid-19 even beyond the mortality that the disease causes, reacts Marisa Peyre, epidemiologist at CIRAD in Montpellier. If we look at the severity of the disease according to mortality, we can put it into perspective, but the flu does not have these effects in the long term: the long Covid multiplies the impact of the disease ultimately”.

Regarding the symptoms, 87% of people with long covid said they had consulted their doctor, “which is recommended by Health Insurance so it’s a good thing”, confirms Véronique Gilleron, doctor of public health at Bordeaux University Hospital. For more specific consultations, 16% consulted specialists in pulmonology, 11% in neurology and 5% in infectiology. However, nearly 11% of respondents with long-term covid said they did not seek care – most often men under 35. But the specialist wants to be reassuring: “Some symptoms of long COVID disappear after a certain time, and support exists in particular for the loss of taste and smell.”

“All this has a financial cost for society”

According to the results of the study, the most affected audiences would be women, working people and people who have been hospitalized. However, “the condition can affect all age groups of the population”, comments Marisa Peyre. “Depending on the symptoms, the disease will impact the daily life of the person and all this at a financial cost for him and society”, adds the epidemiologist.

In order to anticipate these costs, the researcher recommends working on prevention strategies and investing in the long term, “in order to stem the epidemiological risks at the source and avoid new pandemics”.

“We must not forget the vaccination which will make it possible to achieve collective immunity”, also recalls Véronique Gilleron. The vaccination rate will indeed have an impact on the number of cases, and therefore the number of people with a long form of covid.

Do variants increase the risk of long Covid?

“It’s hard to predict what the other variants will do, we can hope, but we don’t know, that they will behave like the classic coronaviruses that we have in winter: we catch a little cold and we hope that it will not go beyond”, confides the doctor of public health. Same observation from the side of the CIRAD epidemiologist: “The long-term impacts will depend on how the pathogen evolves, and potentially each variant can have different consequences”.

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