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Long COVID is affecting thousands of Canadians. These researchers are racing to understand its risk factors, treatments

0 2 years ago

That all changed in the past few months, after an announcement that Dr. Katz is starting an ambitious trial to better understand long COVID, including possible risk factors and long-term health effects. Suddenly, people who have been suffering for weeks or months with fatigue, aches, trouble breathing and other debilitating symptoms began contacting Dr. Katz to tell him their stories.

“I’ve never had a research study where I’ve had this much interest from the public, people who have reached out to me, cold calls,” said Dr. Katz, a family physician and senior researcher at the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy. “It’s really quite heartbreaking to hear these stories because these people are desperate.”

As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations start to wane across much of Canada, more urgent attention is being directed at understanding the origins of long COVID, its risk factors and its treatment. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), long COVID, also known as post-COVID-19 condition, occurs when people experience long-lasting and often debilitating symptoms after an infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. There are dozens of symptoms linked to long COVID, including brain fog, exhaustion, shortness of breath, anxiety and depression and aches and pains. In children, among the most commonly reported are fatigue, headaches, weight loss and difficulty thinking or concentrating.

Thousands are afflicted across Canada, but for many people, even getting a diagnosis can be a challenge: The condition is new and much remains unknown. Some doctors say they feel at a loss for how to help patients, as limited treatment options are available.

“I don’t have the answer yet,” said Neeja Bakshi, an internal-medicine physician in Edmonton who recently started a dedicated long-COVID clinic. “I don’t have the magic cure to fix this, but what I’m trying to do is at least, No. 1, listen to patients.”

PHAC is working with agencies such as Statistics Canada to track cases, and with the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to fund studies to better understand the condition. In a statement, a spokesperson for CIHR said it created a dedicated pool of funds for long-COVID research last year and has so far invested nearly $18-million in projects studying various aspects of the condition.

Researchers around the world are also racing to understand long COVID, including at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, which is spending US$470-million on a major study that will track 40,000 patients. And earlier this month, a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Nature found that people who had been infected with the virus experienced a reduction in grey matter and a greater cognitive decline compared with people who had not contracted COVID-19.

For people suffering with symptoms linked to long COVID or other complications of COVID-19 infections, the research can’t be done quickly enough.


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