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NIH launches new study into “Long COVID”

The United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) announced it will be launching a new initiative to study “Long COVID.” Long COVID refers to the collection of symptoms that patients who do not fully recover from COVID-19 over a few weeks experience long past the time that they’ve recovered from the initial stages of COVID-19 illness. 

 “Our hearts go out to individuals and families who have not only gone through the difficult experience of acute COVID-19 but now find themselves still struggling with lingering and debilitating symptoms,” said Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director of NIH.  “Throughout this pandemic, we have witnessed the resilience of our patient, medical, and scientific communities as they have come together in extraordinary ways. NIH deeply appreciates the contributions of patients who have not fully recovered from SARS-CoV-2 infection and who have offered their experiences and insights to lead us to this point, including those with other post-viral infections.”

The symptoms of Long COVID can include fatigue, shortness of breath, brain fog, sleep disorders, fevers, gastrointestinal symptoms, anxiety, and depression. These symptoms can persist for months and can range from mild to debilitating. In some cases, new symptoms arise well after the time of infection or evolve. The initiative will receive $1.15 billion over the next four years to fund the research, and many experts support the decision.

Steven Deeks, a physician and infectious disease researcher at the University of California, San Francisco who is leading a project to study people with long-lasting effects from COVID-19 told Nature, “Other than the general consensus that the phenomenon is real, all we really know are the questions.” Some questions the NIH wants to answer include:

  • What does the spectrum of recovery from SARS-CoV-2 infection look like across the population?
  • How many people continue to have symptoms of COVID-19, or even develop new symptoms, after acute SARS-CoV-2 infection?
  • What is the underlying biological cause of these prolonged symptoms?
  • What makes some people vulnerable to this but not others?
  • Does SARS-CoV-2 infection trigger changes in the body that increase the risk of other conditions, such as chronic heart or brain disorders?