UofG leads major study into long COVID

Published: 13 May 2021

Researchers at the University will lead new work into understanding long-term health impacts of virus

The University is leading a major new study to understand the long-term health of people who have had COVID-19.

Undertaken in collaboration with Public Health Scotland and the NHS in Scotland, and funded by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office, the COVID in Scotland Study (CISS) will seek to better understand how many people in Scotland have long-term problems after COVID, using an app that will enable people to explain how the virus is still affecting their lives.

Using NHS health data records, all Scottish adults who have had a positive COVID-19 test, as well a sample of people who tested negative for the disease, will be sent an SMS message inviting them to take part in the study. If they agree, individuals will be asked to use the specially designed app to answer questions about their health, both before and after COVID-19, and whether the virus has had any lasting effects on their lives.

Professor Jill Pell, Professor of Public Health at the University of Glasgow who will lead the study, 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.”

Evidence gathered from patients since the beginning of the pandemic suggests that, for some people, symptoms of COVID-19 persist beyond the expected period of infection. Termed “long COVID”, these symptoms are currently defined as “not recovering for several weeks or months following the start of symptoms that were suggestive of COVID, whether you were tested or not.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Gregor Smith said: “We recognise the longer-term impacts COVID-19 is having on the physical and mental wellbeing of people in Scotland.

“Government, clinicians, specialist healthcare professionals and third sector organisations are working hard to ensure people have access to the support they need for assessment, diagnosis, care and rehabilitation in a setting that is as close to their home as possible.

“This new study will be a valuable tool to help us learn more about the effects of what is still a relatively new illness and ensure people receive the best possible treatment and care. If you are contacted to take part in the study I would strongly encourage you to participate – your insight will be extremely valuable.”

Estimates of the number of people suffering with long COVID vary, and we currently know very little about the condition and its long-term effects. So far, research studies indicate that the most common persistent symptoms include breathlessness and fatigue, although people have reported a number of other on-going health concerns. It is also thought that some people might initially recover but their symptoms recur later.

Those who agree to participate in the study will be asked questions about their health before and after their COVID-19 infection via an app that has been specially designed to support this research. These participants will then be asked to answer the same questions again 12, 18 and then 24 months after their initial positive test. Some participants will also be asked to take part in one-to-one interviews to discuss, in more detail, the impact of COVID-19 on their health and normal activities of living.

The study will also recruit a comparison group who tested negative for COVID-19, at a ratio of three comparison group participants for every participant who tested positive for the virus. This group will also be asked a similar set of questions, so that researchers can begin to understand how the long-term health of infected people is different from those who weren’t infected.

The results will provide insight into the scale and nature of long-COVID; how many people have long-term sequelae, the type of long-term sequelae; and the impacts of them on daily living. It will enable us to predict who needs ongoing health and social care and the type of support needed.

First published: 13 May 2021