A new study has been launched in Quebec to look into the long-term effects of COVID-19.
Over a year, researchers at McGill University, Université de Sherbrooke and the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal will follow 200 people who were sick with the virus, so researchers can better understand why they continue to experience certain symptoms that are sometimes debilitating, long after they were first infected.
“A lot of them cannot work, have trouble even talking, walking, concentrating, eating,” explained lead researcher Dr. Thao Huynh, from the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC).
They won the $250,000 grant that was provided by Pfizer Global.
“The grant was absolutely unconditional and the design of the study was our own,” said Dr. Huynh.
According to Huynh, long-haul COVID affects between 15 and 40 per cent of infected patients. She said most of the patients are young women, many in their 20s, often from racialized groups and regardless of health.
“Some of them have done Ironman or marathons and now they can barely walk,” said the epidemiologist-cardiologist.
Julie Arsenault is one so-called “long-hauler” who used to be very active before she became infected.
“My major issues are extreme fatigue in doing almost nothing,” she told Global News, sitting on her front porch so as not to run out of breath during a conversation.
She said suffers from shortness of breath, heart palpitations, brain fog, loss of short-term memory, and can’t even drive.
“So I can’t do my own cleaning, I can’t do my own groceries, I get everything delivered here to the door,” she pointed out, fighting back tears as she smiled.
All of this, though she caught the virus in May 2020.
She lives alone, can’t see many people, but finds some comfort in the Facebook group, COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada.
In spite of her situation, Arsenault considers herself one of the lucky ones — she has a job which allows her to work from home.
Others, like Josée Laroche who’s also suffering from “long COVID,” can’t even do that.
“I cannot walk five minutes without feeling pain,” she stressed. “I need to get a wheelchair actually.”
She too has brain fog, shortness of breath and heart palpitations, as well as migraine.
One main concern for Dr. Huynh is what she describes as lack of support for patients like Laroche and Arsenault.
“No resource of rehabilitation, no network of specialists to help them,” she noted.
She wants to use the study to raise awareness among the public and the medical profession as well.
Arsenault hopes medical professionals learn to understand the needs of patients like her. Both she and Laroche hope the public understands just how serious COVID is, and the potential consequences for getting infected.