RICHMOND, Va. -- Researchers at VCU are leading a national study to uncover the mysterious nature of long COVID when a person infected with COVID-19 experiences severe symptoms months after the infection.
The study is focused on the impact of long COVID on children and young adults.
The Virginia RECOVER Project is funded by the National Institutes of Health, and families of young people 25 years or younger can take part, whether or not a family member is currently dealing with long COVID.
Researchers at the VCU School of Nursing are spearheading the years-long project.
“You know when you’re sick with COVID, especially now. It’s like a bad cold, you’ve got a sore throat, maybe some [respiratory issues], but long COVID can take any form because it’s any symptom that can occur after you had this infection that you didn’t have before,” said Dr. Amy Salisbury, one of the lead researchers on the study.
Those who suffer severe COVID infections or have preexisting medical conditions appear more likely to experience long COVID, according to the CDC. But even so, Dr. Salisbury said plenty of patients without those factors continue to feel its effects, and there is limited research into young people specifically.
“I think we have a little more data now than we did a year ago, especially for adults. But in children, I don’t think we have the data we need to really say here’s what can happen if you’re in a particular risk group or not, or these are the factors that point to you having more trouble after an infection.” Dr. Salisbury said.
Bret Brooks is the research coordinator for the study and regularly interviews families interested in participating as a part of the enrollment process.
“They’re trying to find answers and being part of this study is going to help to be part of finding that answer,” Brooks said. “It’s kind of like giving them hope that they are part of the answer, and somebody is looking at this and figuring out the best way to help them moving forward.”
For participants, the study is multi-phased. They provide initial blood and saliva samples, as well as medical information.
“Being able to look at the immune system, the nervous system, and how those things interact together. This study is our opportunity to look at the systems and how they inter-relate to each other rather than looking at it on a mechanistic level with one thing at a time,” Dr. Salisbury said.
That multi-system analysis should help determine predictor factors and treatment options for young people who contract long COVID in the future, researchers said. The data could also potentially help provide insight on a host of other unexplained illnesses,” Dr. Salisbury said.
“Hopefully we’ll have more information on how this works, so we’ll be better prepared for the things that are coming down the pike for us to deal with,” Dr. Salisbury said.
“This is a really key moment in history, trying to figure out how we can best help out these individuals,” Brooks said.
Enrollment in the project is currently open. Participants are paid for taking part.
The research team is planning to set up at community events in the near future to meet face-to-face with potential participants.