While normally I would take an opinion poll on the self-reporting incidence of an illness with a pinch of salt, my sheer frustration in trying to source data from the HSE on the incidence of long COVID, waiting lists, referrals etc led me to commission such a poll myself.
There is lack of acknowledgement and even scepticism of the potential long-term impact of long COVID on our population and our health service, by both medics and health management, which made such a poll important.
The poll involves the self-reporting of long COVID symptoms by a representative sample of adults across the country by the polling company Ireland Thinks.
My intention was to provide a baseline on the public perception of long COVID, as well as acting as a comparator to a similar poll conducted on an ongoing basis in the UK by the Office for National Statistics in the UK and this analysis finds that 2.2 million people are living with self-reported long COVID symptoms in the UK.
The Heath Service Executive here has been considering commissioning similar polling research in Ireland but has yet to start that work.
The polling data shows that:
- 6% of adults in Ireland have self-reported symptoms of long COVID in excess of 12 weeks, with a further 3% of adults self-reporting the onset of symptoms for less than 12 weeks.
- 67% of those reporting symptoms experienced a continuation of symptoms more than twelve weeks after an initial infection with COVID-19.
○ This figure is higher among women (69%) than men (60%)
- 84% of those with symptoms of long COVID report that their ability to conduct daily activities has been reduced as a result.
- The most commonly reported symptom is fatigue (84%) followed by shortness of breath (59%), sleep problems (44%), memory problems (43%) and muscle ache (39%).
- Fatigue is the most commonly reported symptom among all age groups, bar 18-24, where shortness of breath is most frequently reported.
What has surprised me with the results is how well they correlate:
- 6% of adults in Ireland have self-reported symptoms of long COVID in excess of 12 weeks, with a further 3% of adults self-reporting the onset of symptoms for less than 12 weeks. So, 9% of those surveyed are experiencing symptoms of fatigue, breathlessness and brain fog which are associated with long COVID.
While these figures are based on a self-reporting survey they correlate very closely with an analysis that I carried out previously based on research published last year in The Lancet by a team of researchers in the Netherlands who have attributed long COVID symptoms to 12.7% of patients infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Research on Irish blood donors published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre around the same time indicated that 69% of adults in Ireland have been infected by the virus.
As a percentage of the adult population in Ireland this works out at 8.76% which is surprisingly close to the survey results from IrelandThinks. Of course, all of this comes with the caveat of how the question is posed and the understanding of the respondent but neither should this correlation be dismissed.
- The IrelandThinks survey results also indicate that long COVID symptoms impact a lot on daily activities of 16% of people with long COVID, with one third of respondents over 65 indicating that this has impacted significantly on their daily lives. Excluding those respondents over 65, as a percentage of the adult working age population this would be 0.83% of respondents to the survey who stated that long COVID symptoms have impacted on their daily activities.
This figure also correlates with the only actual national data published on long COVID in Ireland, which based on Social Welfare COVID payments shows that 0.81% of claimants were issued payments for in excess of 12 weeks, after their initial infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. It is important to note that this data is only of people in full time work who were unfit to return to work for at least 12 weeks after they initially contracted the virus and does not include those who made a full recovery and then had a subsequent relapse.
So, despite this being a self-reporting poll of long COVID symptoms it does correlate with other independent data. These findings are the very first comprehensive survey data on the prevalence of long COVID in Ireland, and clearly show the need to urgently address the care requirements of those who are suffering with this illness.
While the mechanism behind the disease has yet to be fully defined, given the proportion of the population in Ireland living with long COVID, it is imperative that evidence-based treatment pathways be explored as a matter of urgency
The 6% proportion of adult population is based on extrapolated 2022 Census estimated adult population of 3,842,652 according to the Oireachtas Library & Research Service.
About the polling data:
The poll was conducted by Ireland Thinks between Friday 4th and Saturday 5th November, with a sample size of 1,328. Ireland Thinks has a panel of 30,000 respondents – its algorithm chooses 5,000 specific individuals to take part in each poll. These individuals are selected based on their demographics and behaviours (age, gender, religious adherence, educational attainment, past voting behaviour) to ensure that they are an exact replica of the census, and within that, the general population. Polling is conducted via an SMS message that is sent directly to participants.
Respondents were asked whether they had experienced symptoms associated with long COVID following an initial period of infection with COVID-19. Those who reported symptoms were then requested to provide a timeline for onset of those symptoms, to describe any changes to their ability to perform daily activities as a result, and to list symptoms they had experienced.
For more, visit: https://www.irelandthinks.ie/