Sep 15, 2021 - Health

NIH launches massive project to study long COVID

Illustration of a child looking at a giant covid virus casting a long shadow

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The National Institutes of Health is launching a nationwide series of studies with as many as 40,000 people to research the long-term effects of COVID-19.

Why it matters: COVID symptoms that last more than four weeks, usually referred to as long COVID, have become an emerging public health concern as researchers do not know the cause.

  • Symptoms including brain fog, fatigue, persistent cough, loss of taste or smell and organ damage.

Details: In the coming months, the agency's goal is to better understand the prevalence and incidence of the long-term effects, the range of symptoms, risks and strategies for treatment and prevention.

  • The NIH allocated about $470 million for the project spanning 100 researchers and 30 institutions in the U.S. The agency already had a few ongoing studies on COVID long-haulers, and those studies will continue under this project.
  • The studies will include adult, pregnant and pediatric populations. The volunteers who currently have COVID-19 or have had the illness will undergo tissue pathology, and will be given wearable devices and smartphones for researchers to track data in real-time. Millions of electronic health records will also be analyzed.

By the numbers: Data from the CDC out last week showed that more than a third of people with long COVID reported having three or more symptoms at a time.

  • The most prevalent symptom in long haulers was fatigue, tiredness or weakness. More than a fourth of those with COVID reported changes in smell or taste.

What they're saying: “We know some people have had their lives completely upended by the major long-term effects of COVID-19,” NIH director Francis Collins, said in a statement.

  • "These studies will aim to determine the cause and find much-needed answers to prevent this often debilitating condition and help those who suffer move toward recovery," he added.
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