Graham was a healthy 34-year-old until he developed COVID in July 2020. Along with his wife and children, he had a fever, a cough, breathlessness, profound fatigue and he lost his sense of smell.
But instead of getting better like the rest of his family, Graham found that his breathlessness persisted. Even minor physical exertion or intellectual tasks like making shopping lists left him exhausted.
Against his better judgment, Graham returned to his job as a schoolteacher after six weeks. But he quickly crashed – essentially he became so tired he could barely get out of bed – and had to go on sick leave again.
Graham is fictitious but his story is typical of someone with long COVID – defined as COVID symptoms that are not better after four weeks (“post-acute COVID”) and especially after 12 weeks (“chronic COVID”).
Data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that 1.8 million people in the UK (2.8% of the population) self-report symptoms of long COVID. Of these, 791,000 (44% of all long COVID patients) have been unwell for more than a year and 235,000 (13%) for more than two years. These groups are sometimes referred to as “long haulers”.