NIH readies grants for more research on long-term health effects of COVID-19

NIH is preparing to offer more than $1 billion in grants within three weeks for more research into the long-term health issues after a COVID-19 infection, commonly known as “long COVID-19.”

NIH Director Francis Collins told a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Wednesday that the agency is moving forward with an “unprecedented” large-scale study on tens of thousands of COVID-19 long-haulers to examine the “prevalence, severity and persistence” of the ongoing health problems after infection.

How many have long COVID-19: Preliminary research has found between 10 percent to 30 percent of people who had COVID-19 may develop long-term health issues. With more than 32 million confirmed cases in the U.S. in the past year, that could amount to millions dealing with long COVID-19.

Symptoms of long COVID-19 include fatigue, brain fog, disturbed sleep, shortness of breath, palpitations, depression, loss of taste and smell and muscle and joint pain, which persist four weeks after diagnosis.

Message to long-haulers: “Some of you have been suffering for more than a year, with no answers, no treatment options, not even a forecast of what your future may hold,” Collins said during the hearing. “Some of you have even faced skepticism about whether your symptoms are real. I want to assure you that we at NIH hear you and believe you.”

What’s next: The agency has already received 273 responses for its February request for research proposals, Collins said, adding he expects intensive laboratory and imaging studies to start by the summer.