McMaster scientists in Hamilton studying ‘long COVID’ causes

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Published November 2, 2021 at 7:26 pm

Three scientists at McMaster University, including one who has it, have earned a federal grant to study what causes “long COVID.”

The Hamilton university said Tuesday that Dr. Manali Mukherjee, an assistant professor in the division of respirology in the department of medicine, will lead a study on COVID-19 long-haul symptoms. The federal government is investing $500,000 in the study.

Mukherjee — who suffers from “long COVID” — and two fellow assistant professors of medicine, Dr. Konstantinos Tselios and Dr. Sarah Svenningsen, will recruit and track 120 patients with long-haul symptoms. The funding will allow them to better understand if COVID-19 triggers certain immune responses that cause chronic symptoms. They will also explore whether younger adults’ strength in being able to survive COVID-19 leaves them more exposes to vulnerabilities later in life.

“For the long COVID syndrome, it’s the younger adults – especially women between 25 and 55 – who are more prone to these long-haul symptoms,” s Mukherjee said in a McMaster release.

“It may be because younger adults have a more robust immune system. They have the internal resources to go full throttle in killing the virus, but this may actually increase the risk that their immune defenses will go rogue, mounting an attack on the body’s own cells and organs and possibly leading to a full-blown autoimmune condition.

Mukherjee added that, “In general, women are linked to higher risk for developing autoimmune diseases.”

An estimated 29,022 Canadians who contracted COVID-19 have died since the global pandemic reached North America in early 2020. About 1.4 million people in Canada have contracted COVID-19 and survived, but about 15 per cent continue to suffer symptoms, such as breathlessness and brain fog, six months after recovering.

Like with many medical conditions, there is likely no one cause of long COVID. It is not yet clear what processes cause some people to develop it while someone with a similar health history or profile is fine.

“This is one of several studies we are funding on the topic to better understand the causes and impacts of what the World Health Organization defines as post-COVID condition,” said Dr. Catherine Hankins, the co-chairwoman of the federal COVID-19 Immunity Task Force (CITF), which is providing the funding.

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