Click to expand
The U.S. government has launched a national initiative to study patients with COVID-19 who suffer from residual symptoms months after recovery, known as “COVID long hauliers,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said at a White House briefing Wednesday.
The country’s leading expert on infectious diseases has also revealed a scientific name for the new syndrome – Post Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (PASC) – further legitimizing the suffering population.
“(There are) many important questions that are not answered now, which we hope to answer with this series of initiatives in the end,” Fauci said.
Start the day smarter. Get all the news you need in your inbox every morning.
The announcement comes after a study published last week in the JAMA Network Open found that about 30% of patients with COVID-19 reported persistent symptoms up to 9 months after illness.
These symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, sleep disturbances, fever, gastrointestinal problems, anxiety and depression, and the so-called “brain fog.”
“Sometimes these symptoms appear long after the time of the infection or they develop over time and they can last … for months and can range from mild, annoying to actually quite incapacitated,” Fauci said.
National health institutes expect to include in the initiative data from existing projects for patients with COVID-19. One such project is the COVID-19 Neuro Databank-Biobank (or NeuroCOVID Project), a database and biobank run by New York University.
The NeuroCOVID project, announced on Tuesday, requires institutions and individual clinicians to provide information on neurological symptoms, underlying diseases, the course of the disease, complications and outcomes. They can also submit existing samples such as blood, tissue and cerebrospinal fluid to the project’s biobank.
“Because so many people have fallen ill, it has become apparent that there are so many patients who appear to have neurological diseases that appear to be related to COVID,” said Dr. Sharon Meropol, program director of the NeuroCOVID project. “Some of them had new conditions, some of them had existing ones, which became more acute.”
Everyone gets a mask: The Biden administration will deliver over 25 million masks to health centers, food closets
Third vaccine against COVID on the way: J&J COVID-19 single dose vaccine meets criteria as safe and effective, FDA report finds
The data bank will accept information about adults, children, pregnant women and their babies. The patient’s identity will be protected by their providers, as only they can see personal information; The NeuroCOVID project can only see generated, unidentifiable code that relates to the patient.
At the start of the pandemic, health experts suggested that the neurological symptoms may have been caused by severe COVID-19 disease. But over time, more and more patients with mild or moderate disease have begun to show these symptoms, said Dr. Barbara Karp, program director at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at NIH.
“As we enter COVID on long hauls, the long-term consequences of COVID … much of it is the neurological field,” she said.
The most common symptom among long-haul carriers is brain fog, which includes memory problems, difficulty concentrating and intense fatigue, according to Dr. Pravin George, a neurologist in the neurology department at the Cleveland Clinic.
One explanation for the symptoms may be that the immune system attacks normal cells in the body during infection, including brain cells, he said. It can also be caused by inflammation or low oxygen levels that are characteristic of the disease.
No one can know for sure until this population is well studied, George said.
“We don’t have the answers, but what’s really important is to understand what’s going on, and that’s where a national effort like that really plays an important role,” Karp said. “We hope in the long run that if we can identify the syndrome, then we will be able to develop ways to approach its treatment.”
Follow Adriana Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.
Patient health and safety coverage at USA TODAY is made possible in part through a grant from the Masimo Foundation for Healthcare Ethics, Innovation and Competition. The Masimo Foundation does not provide editorial data.
This article first appeared in the US TODAY: Dr. Anthony Fautsi aims to answer “very important questions” about “COVID long hauliers” in a new national initiative