Evidence from previous coronavirus outbreaks, especially the SARS epidemic, indicates that the after-effects of such infections can last for years.
However, exploring long-term effects was not a priority in the first few months of the pandemic as governments scrambled to stem the spread by implementing lockdowns, and hospitals struggled to cope with the rising tide of cases. Most research focused on treating or preventing infection.
Researchers are now starting follow-up studies of people who had been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Most of these studies focus on damage to specific organs or systems. In the UK, Post-Hospitalisation COVID-19 Study (PHOSP-COVID) has been launched to follow 10,000 patients for a year, analyzing clinical factors such as blood tests and scans and collecting data on biomarkers.
PHOSP-COVID has been set up and funded as a long-term research study to recruit patients who have been hospitalized with COVID-19. Over the course of a year, clinical assessments will track patients to gain a comprehensive picture of the impact COVID-19 has had on longer-term health outcomes across the UK.
The team leading the PHOSP-COVID study is expected to develop trials of new strategies for clinical care, including personalized treatments for groups of patients based on the particular disease characteristics they show as a result of having COVID-19 to improve their long term health.
A similar study of hundreds of people over a period of two years was launched in the US at the end of July.
The British Heart Foundation in London announced six research programmes at the beginning of June. One of these will follow hospitalized patients for six months, tracking damage to their hearts and other organs.
Data-sharing initiatives such as the CAPACITY registry, launched in March, are compiling reports from dozens of EU hospitals about people with COVID-19 who have cardiovascular complications.
CAPACITY is a European Registry to determine the role of cardiovascular disease in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID Human Genetic Effort, started by researchers from Rockefeller University and USA’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)/National Institutes of Health (NIH), aims to find genetic variants that compromise people’s immune systems and make them more vulnerable to the virus. It plans to expand the study to those with long-term impairment, hoping to understand why their symptoms persist.