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Sound Health is a recurring series that airs twice each month on WGLT's Sound Ideas program.Support for Sound Health comes from Carle Health, bringing care, coverage, support, healthcare research and education to central Illinois and beyond.

Central Illinois study into long COVID progressing into the next stage of research

A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Radoslav Zilinsky
/
Getty Images
A computer rendering of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Central Illinois long COVID study is entering a new stage exploring how to enroll people in treatment, and how doctors can better treat the disease when it starts.

The ILLInet RECOVER program is funded by a $22 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. The research is led by the University of Illinois at Chicago. Partner institutions also include OSF HealthCare, Carle Health, and the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria.

Dr. John Hafner is is an attending physician at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, and the site investigator for the ILLInet RECOVER program. He said around 20% of the people who contract COVID-19 will suffer from long-term symptoms, but the reasons aren't well-understood yet.

"This is a very unique virus," he said. "It causes not only symptoms in one organ system, but many organ systems, and different people are affected in different ways. It doesn't make a lot of sense to us."

Hafner said those widely varying symptoms also require different treatments. Some are easy to treat; others, not so much.

"I think the first step in all of this is to better understand this virus and understand how it's affecting the body. And once that's accomplished, we'll really be able to target different treatments and ways in which we can help folks with that particular problem," he said.

The five-year study is following a cohort of patients from around Central Illinois. Hafner said interest has been surprisingly high, despite the frequent medical appointments, blood tests, and surveys demanded of participants over the course of the study.

Hafner said the study will try to understand how symptoms of long COVID develop, progress, and resolve. Some patients could be enrolled in clinical trials to explore treatment methods.

An important subset in the study are patients who only recently recovered from COVID-19. Researchers want to follow these patients to monitor which patients develop long COVID symptoms in an effort to better understand why it happens.

"I think as the body of knowledge grows, and we understand the virus better, it's going to make a lot more sense on how things are happening, both in the molecular, genetic, and biochemical modalities," Hafner said.

Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.
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