'Long Covid' doesn't EXIST, doctors say in stunning pushback against term that's creating 'unnecessary fear'

Doctor consoling woman and her partner

The term is perpetuating a climate of fear as after-effects indistinguishable from other viruses, doctors say

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Adam Chapman

By Adam Chapman

Published: 15/03/2024

- 10:11

Updated: 15/03/2024

- 10:27
  • Long Covid is indistinguishable from the after-effects of viruses like flu
  • The term should be binned as it's creating 'unnecessary fear'

Long Covid is not a thing and the medical profession must scrap this term immediately, doctors say in a scathing assessment of a phenomenon that's believed to affect around 1.9 million Britons.

According to the chief health officer of Queensland, Australia, the designation implies that there's something unique about the long-term symptoms of Covid-19.

In reality, the after-effects of Covid are indistinguishable from those caused by other viruses, such as the flu. These persistent complaints, which can include fatigue and shortness of breath, fall under the umbrella of post-viral syndrome.

Warping the language in this way perpetuates a climate of fear and impedes recovery, warns Doctor John Gerrard, Queensland’s chief health officer.

Woman holding her chest

The designation implies there's something unique about the long-term symptoms of Covid-19

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He said: "We believe it is time to stop using terms like 'long Covid'.

"They wrongly imply there is something unique and exceptional about longer term symptoms associated with this virus.

"This terminology can cause unnecessary fear, and in some cases, hypervigilance to longer symptoms that can impede recovery."

The doctor's comments follow a new study of long Covid by the Australian state of Queensland. Researchers surveyed 5,112 adults who had either Covid or flu between 29 May and 25 June 2022.

A year later, participants were asked about ongoing symptoms and the degree of functional impairment using a questionnaire.

Overall, 16 percent of all respondents reported ongoing symptoms a year later, and 3.6 percent reported moderate-to-severe functional impairment in their activities of daily life.

The analysis found no evidence that those who had Covid were more likely to have moderate-to-severe functional limitations a year after their diagnosis than those with other viral infections, including flu.

Those who were more likely tended to be aged 50 years or older, and those who had symptoms of dizziness, muscle pain, shortness of breath, post-exertional malaise, and fatigue.

Whooping cough

Persistent complaints following a respiratory infection are known as post-viral syndrome


The findings will be presented at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases conference in Barcelona next month.

Doctor Gerrard added: "In health systems with highly vaccinated populations, long Covid may have appeared to be a distinct and severe illness because of high volumes of Covid cases during the pandemic.

"However, we found that the rates of ongoing symptoms and functional impairment are indistinguishable from other post-viral illnesses.

"These findings underscore the importance of comparing post-Covid outcomes with those following other respiratory infections, and of further research into post-viral syndromes."

He's not a lone voice within the medical community - others too are challenging the orthodoxy around long Covid.

A&E consultant Dr Rob Galloway has previously expressed alarm over the designation, which he felt was being applied too liberally.

In an editorial for the Mail Online, he said he had been "frustrated by the number of patients labelled with it, often without any convincing reason beyond a collection of ongoing symptoms".

He wrote: "The implications of this label can be significant, impacting on their mental wellbeing. Many of those I've been involved with treating seem defeated by the assumption that they are unlikely to get better.

"But also because it means that clinicians may not look for other causes of their symptoms."

Doctor Janet Scott, Clinical Lecturer in Infectious Diseases, University of Glasgow who was not involved in the study, said in response to the latest findings: "Many infections cause post-infection syndromes, and it may be that 'long Covid' is indeed not markedly different from other post -respiratory virus syndromes.

"It is important however not to minimise the huge personal and economic impact the long Covid have on individuals."

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