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Three Black and disabled folx (a non-binary person in a power wheelchair, a femme leaning against a wall, and a non-binary person standing with a cane) engaged in conversation. All three are outdoors and in front of a building with two large windows.

BY Leo Hynett

Healthcare

Major Scottish Study Could Help Predict Long Covid

A long covid study in Scotland is helping build a better understanding of the condition, who is likely to develop it, and why.

OCTOBER 28  2021

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When the first lockdown was lifted, people were excited to see loved ones again and healthy young people were not too worried about the virus – it would be an inconvenience, but it would be over quickly. As the months went on and our understanding grew, it became apparent that some people’s symptoms were lingering for months in the form of long covid.

Long covid has been referred to as the forgotten side effect of COVID-19, but it is something that an estimated 1 in 20 people who catch the virus will experience. Long covid can affect anyone who catches COVID-19 but has a greater impact on older demographics. Some people have now been experiencing long covid for over a year, yet we still don’t fully understand who goes on to develop it – or why.

An ‘ambitious research project is seeking to better understand how many people have long-term problems after COVID in Scotland, using an app-based questionnaire that will enable people to explain how COVID-19 is still affecting their lives.’

The study was initially launched earlier this year and is now inviting more people based in Scotland to join.

What does the study aim to achieve?

The study aims to gather comprehensive data about people’s experience of recovering from COVID-19:

Study lead Professor Jill Pell said: ‘Most people recover quickly and completely after infection with COVID-19, but some people have reported a wide variety of long-term problems. It is crucial that we find out how many people have long-term problems, and what those problems are, so that we can set up systems to spot problems early and deal with them effectively.’

As time goes on the opportunities to study long covid continue to grow, but so does the number of people coming down with it. This study has the potential to reduce the number of people suffering long-term by identifying the early warning signs and providing treatment early on.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith has urged anyone contacted to take part to do so in order to help the team ‘shape and design the best way to treat and support people who have been affected.’ Participants will receive the same questionnaire again 12, 18 and then 24 months after their initial positive test in order to ascertain the nature and duration of their symptoms.

Tracking the prevalence and nature of long covid has been difficult as many people who experience it have not needed to seek medical advice beyond their positive test. They haven’t been to the hospital, and they may not have wanted to bother their GP given the well-known levels of strain the NHS is currently experiencing. Reaching out to everyone who has received a positive test and inviting them to take part in this study is a brilliant way to ensure the figures are truly reflective of the entire population, regardless of how severe their symptoms are.

 

Further studies

This is not the only study working to predict the likelihood of covid patients developing long covid. Health science company ZOE has collaborated with multiple hospitals and universities across the UK and US to create the COVID Symptom Study app which has already yielded some interesting findings:

‘We also found that it’s possible to predict who is likely to develop long COVID based on the very earliest signs of their illness. The more different symptoms a person experienced within the first week of illness, the more likely they were to develop long COVID. Using this together with age, gender and body mass index meant we could accurately predict who is most at risk of developing long-term symptoms.’

By extrapolating their findings out to the general UK population, the team ‘estimated that around one in seven (14.5%) of people with symptomatic COVID-19 would be ill for at least 4 weeks, one in 20 (5.1%) for 8 weeks and one in 45 (2.2%) for 12 weeks or more.’

The continuation of these studies will provide valuable insight into the scale and nature of long covid, providing a better understanding of the condition and the threat it poses to the public. Being able to predict the outcomes of patients early on in their illness enables effective early interventions and support. While it may not currently be possible to prevent long covid, being able to provide earlier support and guidance will undoubtedly have benefits for patients.

Previous research led by King’s College London has suggested that getting vaccinated not only reduces the risk of catching covid but also reduces the risk of developing long covid. As such, the continuation of the vaccine effort – including booster jabs – remains vital in combatting long covid

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