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UK launches study of Covid-19’s long-term health effects

Scientists in the UK will investigate the long-term effects of Covid-19 in a scientific study which launches this month.

The Department of Health has announced that up to 10,000 people will be involved in a study to look at how people who catch the coronavirus fare long-term.

Growing evidence suggests that even people who only get mildly sick may suffer long-lasting health effects including lung damage. 

The UK’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) has warned that Covid-19 patients could be left with ‘extreme tiredness and shortness of breath for several months’. 

The study, led by researchers and doctors in Leicester, will look at how people’s mental health is affected by illness and whether factors like sex or ethnicity affect how well someone recovers from Covid-19.

Patients in the study, which will receive £8.4million in funding, will have medical scans, blood tests and lung samples so experts can look at how they are affected.

A study is being launched in the UK to look at the long-term effects of Covid-19 for people who recover from the disease (Pictured: A doctor at the temporary NHS Seacole Centre)

The study will start recruiting people from the end of July and will choose hospital patients, focusing on ‘under-represented’ groups, the Department of Health said.    

Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said: ‘As well as the immediate health impacts of the virus it is also important to look at the longer-term impacts on health, which may be significant.

‘We have rightly focused on mortality, and what the UK can do straight away to protect lives, but we should also look at how Covid-19 impacts on the health of people after they have recovered from the immediate disease.’ 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: ‘As we continue our fight against this global pandemic, we are learning more and more about the impact the disease can have not only on immediate health, but longer-term physical and mental health too.

‘This world-leading study is another fantastic contribution from the UK’s world-leading life sciences and research sector.

‘It will also help to ensure future treatment can be tailored as much as possible to the person.’

There is growing evidence that patients diagnosed with even a mild case of Covid-19 may be left struggling with long-term health problems long after recovering from their initial illness.

One of these is potential long-term lung damage, which can leave survivors with reduced lung capacity.  

Other research has suggested that people may develop heart problems as a result of Covid-19 infection.

One small study in Wuhan found that 16 out of 36 intensive care patients had developed irregular heartbeats, called arrhythmia, which can weaken the heart’s ability to pump blood. 

Coronavirus can also cause blood clots, scientists say, which can raise the risk of stroke or heart attack. 

‘Covid-19 can affect the cardiovascular system through multiple pathways,’ Dr Mohammad Madjid, a cardiologist at the University of Texas, told the Daily Mail’s Good Health section.

‘The virus may directly affect the heart muscle, which may not work as strongly as it should, causing the heart rhythm to become irregular.’ 

The study has been given urgent public health research status by the Department of Health. 

It is being organised by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

UKRI chief executive, Professor Ottoline Leyser, said: ‘We have much to learn about the long-term health impacts of Covid-19 and its management in hospital, including the effects of debilitating lung and heart conditions, fatigue, trauma and the mental health and wellbeing of patients.

‘UKRI is collaborating with NIHR to fund one of the world’s largest studies to track the long-term effects of the virus after hospital treatment, recognising that for many people survival may be just the start of a long road to recovery.

‘This study will support the development of better care and rehabilitation and, we hope, improve the lives of survivors.’


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