07 August 2023
The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) is beginning a group of studies aimed at treatments for the condition called long COVID.
Reports say millions of Americans are affected by long-lasting effects from COVID-19 infections.
The NIH is using $1.15 billion provided through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 to study how people recover from COVID-19. The project is called RECOVER. The goal is to pay for studies examining the health problems that COVID patients suffer long after their infection has ended.
Dr. Ziyad Al-Aly is with Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. He is not involved in the NIH project. But his own research on American veterans has brought attention to long COVID. Speaking about the NIH's project, he said: "This is a year or two late and smaller in scope than one would hope but nevertheless it is a step in the right direction."
Al-Aly said getting answers is important because there are so many people pushing unproven therapies.
The term "long COVID" is used to describe about 200 symptoms. It is estimated that between 10 and 30 percent of people experience some form of long COVID after an infection.
However, even federal health officials cannot agree on what long COVID truly means. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra has said, "If I get 10 people, I get 10 answers of what long COVID really is."
The RECOVER effort has followed 24,000 patients in what are called observational studies. The goal is to define the most common symptoms. The findings will help shape future tests for treatments of the symptoms.
Current tests are already taking place. They include a trial of Pfizer's antiviral drug Paxlovid. Researchers want to find out if Paxlovid can ease long COVID symptoms. The idea behind the study is that some coronaviruses remain in some patients and the treatment will help them.
Researchers are also studying treatments for "brain fog" and other thinking problems. Posit Science Corp. has a treatment program called BrianHQ. PASC-Cognitive Recovery is from New York City's Mount Sinai Health System. And Soterix Medical has a device that stimulates brain connections.
The two additional studies will begin in the coming months. One will test treatments for sleep problems in people with long COVID. Another will target breathing and heartbeat problems. People's bodies perform breathing and heartbeat unconsciously. The problems include the disorder POTS, which results from unusual blood flow to the heart.
One planned trial that is the subject of some disagreement involves intolerance to exercise and tiredness, or fatigue. It is not a normal experiment. It is known as a "platform study." This lets the NIH add new therapies at any time.
"We can rapidly pivot," said Dr. Amy Patterson, who is with the NIH. She said a failing treatment can be dropped without ending the trial. She added that the study can quickly include a treatment "if something promising comes on the horizon."
Dr. Anthony Komaroff said it is important to be flexible. He is a researcher from Harvard University. He is not involved in NIH's RECOVER program. But he said studying the effects of Paxlovid on long COVID patients "makes all sorts of sense." But he said researchers should consider extending the treatment for longer than 25 days if there is little sign of improvement.
Komaroff said he understands that people get upset over the long wait for treatment trials. He believes, however, that NIH has waited the right amount of time. Waiting, he said, permits enough time for problems to be identified.
"You've got to have targets," Komaroff said.
I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.
Lauran Neergaard reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter, Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English.
Words in This Story
scope –n. the areas that is included or dealt with
therapy –n. a treatment of physical or mental sickness that might or might not involve medicines
brain fog –n. the inability to think clearly
stimulate –v. to make something active from a less active or quiet state
pivot –v. to turn around a central point
horizon –n. (figurative) the future; a future time
clue –n. something that helps a person understand or find something out that was hidden