University of Alberta study aims to unravel ‘long COVID’ mysteries still puzzling researchers

Researchers from the University of Alberta are trying to better understand the health symptoms that persist long after COVID-19 infections have cleared. 

Known as “long COVID,” the condition can leave people suffering months-long impairments — shortness of breath, fatigue, brain fog — even if their initial infection was never serious enough to go to hospital. 

The researchers behind the study are collaborating with patients who have long COVID to learn more about the illness and what barriers face patients accessing treatment. 

“We’re really trying to capture people’s stories, what their experiences have been and learn from that so we can hopefully apply it to other people with the condition,” said Doug Gross, professor of physical therapy at the University of Alberta, one of the lead researchers behind the project. 

About 10 per cent of people who contract COVID-19, suffer from long COVID, Gross said. However, that number increases to 50 per cent for people who have been hospitalized from the virus, he said. 

As of Nov. 17, more than 330,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Alberta since March 2020, according to provincial government data

Doug Gross is a professor of physical therapy at the University of Alberta and one of the lead researchers behind the project. (Submitted by Doug Gross)

While many people around the world are researching the impact of long COVID, much still remains unknown, such as how to treat the ongoing symptoms and what are the best health treatments available, Gross said on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active,

“We’re still learning a lot about it,” he said.  

Prolonged symptoms from a disease are not unique. Even the common flu can cause lingering health problems — such as post viral fatigue — which refers to persistent tiredness that can last for months. This condition is also poorly understood and still puzzles researchers. 

However, one of the main reasons COVID stands out from other illnesses is because it has impacted millions of people around the globe, Gross said. 

It’s not even clear how long symptoms from long COVID persist. One person in the University of Alberta study caught COVID-19 in March 2020 and still has lingering health problems from the infection. 

“Some of the earliest research on long COVID was actually done by patients themselves.”

9:18Lingering health problems from this pandemic

We will talk to a researcher from the University of Alberta and a patient who are trying to unravel the mysteries of Long COVID. 9:18

After being hospitalized for eight days last Christmas, Lance Hoddinott still can’t taste food or maintain enough concentration to read a book. 

“I ordered some food the other night and it tasted like gasoline,” he said.

The scary part, said Hoddinott, who is taking part in the University of Alberta study, is not knowing if he will ever fully recover. 

“I’m coming to grips with the fact that I’m suddenly dealing with a chronic health problem.”

Researchers are still looking for patients who have symptoms more than 12 weeks after contracting the virus to take part in the study. 

Those interested can email dgross@ualberta.ca for more information.

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