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Study involving 2.4m people reveals new long Covid symptoms

Reduced libido, ejaculation difficulties and hair loss have been revealed as symptoms of long Covid, according to a study involving 2.4 million peoples’ health records.

A new UK study suggests those suffering from long Covid are battling a wider range of symptoms than what is officially recognised by the World Health Organisation.

The WHO defines long Covid as a set of 33 symptoms which usually develop within three months of a SARS-CoV-2 infection, with the symptoms lasting at least two months with no alternative explanation.

While studies into the illness vary, long Covid is thought to effect five to 20 per cent of people who have had Covid-19.

Young attractive couple having romantic time in bed
Camera IconReduced libido and ejaculation difficulties have been identified as new long Covid symptoms. Credit: Supplied

Anuradhaa Subramanian and her colleagues at the University of Birmingham believe to have uncovered more than 60 symptoms associated with long Covid.

“We explored the effect of Covid-19 on 115 symptoms, of which we found 62 symptoms to be statistically significantly associated with Covid-19 at 12 weeks [or more] after infection,” Ms Subramanian said.

“Some of these new symptoms, like reduced libido, sexual dysfunction and hair loss, are really new. They had not been attributed to Covid-19 in the longer term before.”

Ms Subramanian and her team analysed the health records of 486,149 people in the UK who tested positive for Covid-19 between January 2020 and April 2021 but weren’t hospitalised.

At the time, the alpha variant was the dominant strain.

GCB Good Health Guide - generic - man balding
Camera IconHair loss in both men and women has been revealed as a long Covid symptom. Credit: Supplied

The results were compared to 1.9 million people who hadn’t tested positive for Covid-19, with pairs being matched according to a range of factors, including age, sex, ethnicity, socio-economic status, smoking status, body mass index and any other health conditions.

Those who had tested positive for Covid-19 were more likely to report any of the study’s 62 symptoms for at least 12 weeks post-infection, including hair loss, reduced libido and ejaculation difficulties.

“In addition to premature, delayed and retrograde ejaculation [when semen enters the bladder instead of emerging from the penis], our definition includes painful ejaculation, late ejaculation and fear of ejaculation,” says Subramanian.

Co-author Shamil Haroon said when your body is in a state of stress, new hair growth can occur, which causes your existing hair to fall out.

“This is a condition called telogen effluvium,” he said.

Issues with ejaculation and decreased libido are common in other chronic conditions, such as diabetes.
Camera IconIssues with ejaculation and decreased libido are common in other chronic conditions, such as diabetes. Credit: istock

“In this [condition] it’s not like a single patch of hair, but rather it’s kind of generalised hair loss, so that is one potential mechanism for Covid-related hair loss.”

Mr Haroon noted that issues with ejaculation and decreased libido are common in other chronic conditions, such as diabetes, but added that the symptoms post viral infection aren‘t well understood.

“People with other chronic illnesses frequently experience sexual dysfunction and we find the same with Covid-19, suggesting Covid-19 is a chronic illness,” he said.

Other new symptoms that were discovered in the study included sneezing, anosmia (loss of smell), shortness of breath at rest, a hoarse voice and fever.

The study also revealed three types of long Covid and who was more likely to develop the condition.

Long Covid case study
Camera IconCourney Baty, 30, was infected with Covid in January but is still battling symptoms. Alison Wynd Credit: News Corp Australia

Most people, or 80 per cent of participants who had Covid-19, were affected by a broad range of symptoms, including fatigue, rash and pain.

Just over one in 10 or 14.2 per cent mainly experienced cognitive symptoms, including depression, anxiety, insomnia and brain fog, while 5.8 per cent of the participants suffered mainly from breathing problems, such as coughing and shortness of breath.

Women and people of Black Afro-Caribbean descent, mixed ethnicity, native American, Middle Eastern, or Polynesian origin were also more likely to develop long Covid, according to the study.

Other risk factors included being a smoker or former smoker, being overweight or obese and comorbidities such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and depression.

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