Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan have published findings that delve into the effects of COVID-19 on other organs and potential connections to long-haulers disease, the name given to the symptoms that continue to affect people even after the virus has left their system.
As many as one in three people continue to report symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath and difficulty concentrating, even long after they have recovered from COVID-19.
Little is known about the cause of these long-term symptoms, said Dr. Alyson Kelvin, a virologist and research lead on the project.
While the SARS-CoV-2 infection that causes COVID-19 typically affects the respiratory system, Kelvin’s research suggests other organs are also being affected.
“What we’re thinking is that the damage that’s caused outside of the respiratory tract is contributing to this multi-system disease,” she said.
Using Syrian hamsters, a model developed by the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization at the U of S, Kelvin found inflammation around the heart, kidneys and large intestines 14 days after infection.
“How this damage is caused is kind of the next step to our studies … to look at this long term in our models and try to see what are the mechanisms that are driving this disease,” Kelvin said.
Living with long-haulers disease
The researchers are also trying to find what type of therapies or drugs can alleviate the symptoms for long-haulers.
Cordell Hilderman, a pharmacist in Saskatoon, said he has been experiencing symptoms since his COVID-19 diagnosis in early March of last year.
He’s constantly tired — often taking three-hour naps in the afternoon — has poor memory, ringing in his ears and a foggy mind.
“Certain TV programs where you have to think a lot is tiring for me, like Jeopardy or something like that,” he said.
Hilderman said medication and two doses of the vaccine — which Kelvin reported has helped some — have not been able to return him to normal.
Without a good understanding of the disease, Hilderman has been struggling.
Hilderman said he hasn’t been able to return to work and is on long-term disability.
“When everybody was locked down it wasn’t as big of a deal, but now I notice that I’m missing out on life more as people are getting out and doing things,” he said.
He’s been watching for hopeful reports on how to address his symptoms. He said he’s seen some promising research in Germany.
Hilderman said that when he heard researchers at the U of S were looking at how to help people like him, it made him “hopeful.”