Many people who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection may live with post-COVID symptoms (also called long COVID) for an unknown period of time. Clinical researchers from Hong Kong are carrying out a large-scale pilot study on the prevalence of the disease. The data can be used to formulate diagnosis and treatment plans. The study will look at the distinct gut microbiome composition of some of the patients.
Long COVID, known also as long-term sequelae of COVID-19, refers to post-COVID symptoms that persist after recovery that can affect multiple organs and systems. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, heart problems, and brain fog, among others.
According to data by the UK national office on May 6, 2022, “2.0 million people were experiencing self-reported long COVID as of 4 June 2022.”
It is estimated that over 20 million American adults are living with long COVID, while about 7 million are experiencing disabling long COVID.
Patients with long COVID are found to have unique gut microbial signatures that could be used to predict the risk of developing long COVID according to a medical study from the Faculty of Medicine of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) that was recently published in the prestigious medical journal Gut.
On July 12, the Faculty of Medicine of CUHK held a press conference to launch the first large-scale long COVID study in Hong Kong that will investigate the sequelae of post-COVID infection in people.
The survey will be conducted by sending an online questionnaire to every COVID-19 infected person, including the elderly and children.
The study will last for three years, and in the second phase, 1,000 people will be invited to participate in the treatment of long COVID through the analysis of intestinal microecology.
The Hong Kong Hospital Authority supports the study.
Scope of the Disease
According to a government press release, more than 1.2 million people in Hong Kong have been infected with COVID-19 after the fifth wave of the outbreak.
Professor Francis Chan Ka-leung, dean of the Faculty of Medicine and director of the Centre for Gut Microbiota Research at CUHK, said at the meeting that 76 percent of Hong Kong COVID-19 patients are still experiencing at least one symptom six months after recovery.
Chan also said that the subsequent follow-up study found that 70 percent of the 554 newly recovered patients suffered from moderate to severe symptoms of long COVID.
The scope of the study will help the authorities to provide a more comprehensive long COVID medical service, he said.
According to Chan’s estimation, if the number of confirmed cases in Hong Kong reaches 1.27 million, it is estimated that more than 900,000 recovered patients will have at least one symptom of Long COVID. He believes that there are already more than 1.27 million confirmed cases in Hong Kong.
If confirmed cases in Hong Kong reach 2 to 3 million, the number of people suffering from long COVID will be quite alarming, which will have a significant impact on Hong Kong’s entire healthcare system and economic recovery, Chan said.
Siew C. NG, Professor of Department of Medicine & Therapeutics at the Faculty of Medicine of CUHK and associate director of Center for Gut Microbiota Research, said that long COVID not only affects patients’ health but also their family relationships and work.
The large-scale study currently underway will play a key role in the future in exploring diagnostic tools or custom-made treatment plans for patients, she said.