Among the still-unsolved questions of the pandemic are why and how some people who contract COVID-19 continue to have symptoms for weeks and months after the initial infection.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center is part of a $450 million, four-year grant from the National Institutes of Health to study up to 40,000 adults and children with the aim of getting a better understanding of the scope of post-COVID symptoms, also known as long COVID.
Ultimately, researchers involved in the RECOVER (Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery) study hope to improve treatment and health outcomes.
Dr. Andrew Vasey, a co-principal investigator for the local study arm and a UNMC assistant professor of internal medicine, said the goal of the study is to see how people do after having COVID-19. Do they have lingering symptoms? If so, which ones?
It’s important to ask such questions because so many people now have had COVID, he said. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 60% of Americans have been infected.
Estimates indicate that a quarter to a third of people who are infected will have continued problems for months or years, from mild to debilitating. “There’s a lot of people who can’t get back to normal,” Vasey said.
Another goal of RECOVER is to try to find out why that happens. There are theories, he said, but no conclusions. Causes could be different for different people.
“The not knowing part is why it’s a big deal,” he said. “Because we can’t say who’s going to have an issue, how long it’s going to last or how severe it’s going to be for people.”
David Warren, co-principal investigator and an assistant professor in UNMC’s neurological sciences department, said UNMC’s participation in the study ensures that Nebraskans will be represented in it.
The UNMC team hopes to enroll 85 participants by fall. Adults 19 and older are eligible for the study — both those who have had COVID and those who don’t think they have been infected. The national study will enroll about 17,700 adults, including about 15,000 who have had the virus and 2,700 who have not.
UNMC is participating in the adult arm of the study as part of a consortium led by West Virginia State University.
UNMC also is participating in the pediatric portion of the study as one of 14 sites in the Arkansas Children’s Research Institute hub consortium. Children ranging in age from infancy to 18 years old, as well as people up to age 25 who still see pediatric providers, can participate.
Dr. Russell McCulloh, principal investigator for the local arm of the pediatric study, said health officials don’t know the long-term effects of COVID-19 on children’s health and development. McCulloh is an associate professor of pediatrics at UNMC and division chief for pediatric hospital medicine at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center.
Participants in the study may make two to four visits a year. They may be asked for information about their health, symptoms, physical activity and sleep between visits and undergo a medical checkup. Some may be eligible for medical tests.
No treatment will be offered as part of the study, but the research team may follow up with participants’ physicians about test results or opportunities for other post-COVID research.
Julie Anderson is a medical reporter for The World-Herald. She covers health care and health care trends and developments, including hospitals, research and treatments. Follow her on Twitter @JulieAnderson41. Phone: 402-444-1066.
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