(Reuters) – “Long COVID”, where symptoms of COVID-19 persist for months after an initial infection, could be emerging as a chronic disease in Finland, Minister of Family Affairs and Social Services Krista Kiuru said on Friday.

Speaking at a news conference, she referred to a Finnish expert panel’s summary of more than 4,000 international studies which showed one in two adults and around 2% of children may experience prolonged symptoms connected to COVID-19.

“There is a threat that Finland will see the emergence of the largest, or one of the largest, new groups of chronic diseases, and that not only too many adults will suffer from a long-term COVID-19, but at worst also children,” Kiuru said.

The Finnish institute of health and welfare considers an illness chronic when it has a major impact on public health and the national economy through lowered working capacity and strains on healthcare.

The summary published by the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health said long COVID was more likely when the initial infection had required hospitalisation, but it might also occur after a mild or asymptomatic infection.

“The virus has been shown to enter the brain through the nose and its effects are also seen on magnetic resonance imaging,” Risto Roine, professor of neurology and chairman of the expert panel, told the same news conference.

“Around 20% see long-term cognitive impairment,” Roine added, warning that the incidence of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s could increase sharply following a COVID-19 infection.

The Nordic nation of 5.5 million people recorded nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases on Friday, bringing its tally since the pandemic began to 305,522. Six deaths brought the total in Finland to 1,638.

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