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“Long COVID” response ramps up, with plans to test new treatments

The research is one of several efforts by the Biden administration to address long-term symptoms that linger for some patients.

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One of the main puzzles surrounding the COVID-19 epidemic has been this: Why do certain people sometimes suffer from incapacitating symptoms months after the initial infection subsided? What can be done to assist persons who are afflicted by “long COVID”?

According to a prominent federal official managing the plans, the National Institutes of Health is now hoping to start its first significant clinical trials of potential treatments for people having long-term symptoms from COVID-19 as early as October.

The measures are set to intensify over the upcoming months as part of the Biden administration’s response to the millions of people suffering from extended COVID.

“We’re aiming to start something significant around October or November. We might launch a pilot sooner by starting something small. Depending on how the tests go, “Director of the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke, Dr. Walter Koroshetz.

In order to research the diverse constellation of persisting symptoms categorized as “long COVID” or “post-COVID” illnesses, Koroshetz is a member of the team leading the NIH’s RECOVER effort.

These signs may consist of weakness, difficulty breathing, coughing, “brain fog,” sleeplessness, diarrhea, or a loss of smell.

In addition to the anticipated protracted COVID treatment studies, Koroshetz told CBS News that RECOVER has already enrolled close to 7,000 volunteers and performed 50 autopsies to better understand the disease’s aftereffects.

People who test positive early on have been more difficult to investigate to see how they eventually recover over time.

They aren’t visiting doctors’ offices or hospitals, which are frequently the places where we can enroll the most people, according to Koroshetz.

Koroshetz claims that the agency has been working for months to spin up extensive trials for drugs that might be able to address some of the underlying causes for long-term symptoms. These trials will be similar to the agency’s “master protocol” studies, which evaluated treatments reducing the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19.

Medicines that might help people whose symptoms physicians now believe are most likely brought on by the virus remaining in the body and stubbornly infecting patients for months after they first tested positive are one encouraging thread in that research.

First testing that can assess if the therapies are genuinely eradicating latent SARS-CoV-2 infections are necessary before studying those medications can be done. A persistent infection cannot account for all chronic COVID symptoms. According to scientists, there are many potential causes for this condition. Some people may experience prolonged symptoms as a result of organ damage from the initial infection or from an overactive immune system that lasts even after the virus appears to have disappeared.

Because of the heterogeneity of this, Koroshetz stated, “If you just throw something at a bunch of people with post-COVID, you’d have to be incredibly lucky to observe anything. And because you don’t know if you don’t know what you’re targeting, you have no way of deciding on a dose or time.”

Koroshetz stated that the NIH is also working on a number of other protocols and programs to create novel treatments for the full range of extended COVID symptoms. These include medications that could treat heart problems and therapy for attention deficit disorders.

Federal researchers say they intend to accelerate their work on managing and treating patients’ chronic illnesses in the meantime.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs intends to intensify their effort to synchronize their system-wide approach to how their clinicians are treating patients with long-term COVID.

The department expects that the new Long COVID Clinic Practice Based Research Network will help to provide answers to important concerns about diagnosis and therapy by beginning to collect uniform data on its long COVID patients. A representative for the V.A. told CBS News that they also want to sponsor several of their own studies that are now being suggested this month by physicians from all of the V.A. hospitals.

The V.A. also just released a manual for medical professionals treating individuals with chronic symptoms, which it predicts might affect 24,000 to 42,000 veterans.

The authors of the guide stated that at the time of writing, “it is projected that 4-7% of persons diagnosed with COVID-19, or 2% of the U.S. population, will develop Long COVID.”

The prevalence estimates for extended COVID symptoms continue to vary substantially depending on how they are measured globally, the authors stated.

According to polls, 1.8 million people in the United Kingdom, or 2.8% of the population, are presently dealing with symptoms that have persisted for more than a month following their infection.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in June, 7.5% of individuals in the country who were polled report having symptoms that have persisted for at least three months after they initially got the virus.

The CDC’s ongoing National Health Interview Survey, which is scheduled to finish gathering data at the end of this year, will provide more estimates by next summer.

According to data from the CDC-sponsored INSPIRE cohort study, head-related problems including headache, loss of taste or smell, or runny nose are the most often reported symptoms a year after surviving an infection.

It’s difficult to determine how much of that is due to the virus. One year later, both 29.9% of study participants who tested positive for COVID and 29.9% of study participants who tested negative for COVID reported those symptoms.

The Biden administration has committed to conducting additional research to shed light on extended COVID, including better monitoring of its prevalence and possible treatments. Officials have urged Congress to provide funding for their “ambitious ambitions,” which include establishing a new permanent office to coordinate activities among various agencies.

Long-term COVID has already been the subject of some funding from Congress, including the $1.15 billion first allocated in December 2020 that gave rise to the RECOVER effort.

Despite previous long-stalled COVID-19 requests from the White House, Senator Tim Kaine, a longtime supporter of supporting extended COVID efforts, expressed optimism that Capitol Hill could be able to allocate more funds to the problem.

The Virginia Democrat told CBS News earlier this month, “In terms of the nonpartisan aspect of this, in the long COVID space, I feel like I’ve had really good support on both sides of the aisle, in both houses.”

A measure to support greater long COVID efforts was introduced by three Democrats in March, including Kaine, who has publicly admitted to having long COVID symptoms himself. Kaine also mentioned the spending legislation for the upcoming year that the Senate Democrats unveiled this month. These bills contain recommendations to increase funding for research at the CDC and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The budget bills are still not on the president’s desk, of course.

Democratic Senator Richard Shelby stated in a statement late last month that “Democrats know the road to a successful appropriations process, but today they chose to move in a different manner.” Shelby criticized the measures as “packed with poison pills” and “wasteful, off-budget spending.”

Kaine claimed that despite this, he still hears from people who share his long-lasting COVID symptoms. He thinks that feeling of kinship can increase support for spending money on therapies and research.

It’s not difficult for me to persuade my colleagues that this is a top priority, Kaine said.