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BBC Panorama – Long Covid: Will I Ever Get Better?

BBC’s ‘Panorama’ programme, ‘Long Covid: Will I Ever Get Better?’ aired on BBC One on 12th July 2021 and is available for 11 months on BBC iPlayer (UK only). The Guardian amongst other newspapers covering the story but concentrating on the hope for a diagnostic blood test.

The programme centred on BBC journalist Lucy Adams’ experience of long-COVID and her quest for answers regarding the illness. Ms Adams provides greater detail of her experiences on the BBC website as her documentary was part of her phased return to work.

Central to much coverage was an interview with Prof Danny Altmann, who leads a research team at Imperial College London’s Faculty of Medicine, Department of Immunology and Inflammation and coverage of a small-scale study which compared the blood of dozens of people with long-COVID which found “autoantibodies that were not present in people who recovered quickly, or those who have not had Covid-19.” Whereas normally immune systems create antibodies to fight disease, sometimes the body turns on itself – creating autoantibodies which attack healthy cells/proteins – hence damage and illness.

Prof Altmann believes these autoantibodies may be one of the items causing long-Covid symptoms and that it is also possible that some people still have the virus “persisting” in their bodies, while others may have other problems with their immune systems. The research is still at an initial stage, as carried out on a small sample size which can be scaled up later and Prof Altmann warned that the findings cannot yet be described as a breakthrough, but rather “a very exciting advancement”. In diagnosing long-COVID, Prof Altmann is quoted in The Guardian stating “… I’d hope that within six months we’d have a simple blood test that you could get from your GP.”

In summary, what did insight into long-COVID did the programme give?

Considering that no mention was made of parallel symptoms with ME/CFS , ME Research UK’s ‘Top 10 Takeaways’ were

  1. Estimated that c1m may have long-COVID of which c33,000 are children; and most affected are female. 120,000 healthcare professionals have long-COVID.
  2. 1 in 8 who contract COVID go on to get long COVID.
  3. 1 in 3 will have long-COVID for more than 1 year.
  4. 1 in 5 experience memory issues & brain fog.
  5. What are causes of long-COVID? Post-COVID – organ damage, virus re-activating, immune system issues or combination of some/all?
  6. £60m in central funding in UK for research into long-COVID.
  7. Prof Altmann ICL – looking at autoantibodies which attack body’s tissues/proteins. If found, a diagnostic test a possibility.
  8. Prof Altmann would be disappointed if most with long COVID not recovered or feeling significantly better within 2-3 yrs.
  9. After 4 months of COVID, two thirds of patients have a degree of organ damage but improvement seen at next consultation.
  10. Clinics – 89 in England (long waiting lists and some only take those who were hospitalised). Government has invested £134m in long COVID services. None in Scotland or Wales and Northern Ireland provision starts in Oct.