COLORADO SPRINGS — It’s estimated that one in three Americans who have recovered from Covid have persistent symptoms of the virus, or “long Covid.” Commonly associated symptoms are fatigue, brain fog, dizziness and pain.
Emerging studies continue in the public and private health sectors, including the National Institutes of Health and veterans affairs. For veterinarians alone, more than 620,000 have been diagnosed with Covid, more than 22,000 have died, and nearly 4% have died of related health issues, about double the rate for the general public in the United States.
Justin Verhulst works for the Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center in Pueblo. He is a veteran who served in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2014 and was diagnosed with Covid last fall. When I spoke to him recently in his office in Pueblo, he said, “I’ve always noticed that my loss of smell is still going on, I don’t think it’s really coming back fully, so I’m dealing with that. , it’s frustrating, but I tire easily.”
Not just as a veteran, but among the millions of people diagnosed with Covid across the United States over the past two years, he wants answers. It’s personal and he’s concerned, like so many others, with the long-term impact on quality of life. Verhulst said, “It’s vital to show up in front of something like this and it reassures me that someone is already taking the initiative to dive into this so we can get the answers, we can be prepared.”
Currently, there are 17 Veterans Affairs sites across the country studying veterans who are feeling the lingering effects of Covid. It is estimated that 4,300 patients, out of the more than 23,000 officially diagnosed with long Covid, are taking part in this research.
The VA study will actually serve as sort of an incubator for treatment and strategies moving forward, as far as long-term Covid patients are concerned, it will also be part of a larger National Institutes of Health study. , which focuses on those with and without long-term Covid symptoms. In fact, they are currently recruiting around 40,000 people to study those who suffer from some of these symptoms.
Among those directly involved in overseeing research for the VA here in Colorado is Dr. Edward Janoff, president of the Eastern Colorado Veterans Health Services Center in Aurora. He has worked for the VA for over 35 years and is an infectious disease clinician and researcher.
The VA study is part of a cooperative studies program with the NIH, a collaboration to find answers to so many questions related to the root cause of Covid. And there are many questions to be answered in this complex puzzle of an evolving virus.
“You know, it could be, say, maybe vaccinating people after they get Covid reduces the rates or severity of long Covid, maybe hormonal manipulation, maybe immune suppression or immune activation if covid really lasted longer than we think, maybe in the short term 3 -5 day treatment we give people with covid, maybe should be longer or reinstituted with people with covid for a long time,” Dr. Janoff explained.
Although Colorado is not yet one of the VA Network’s 17 research sites, Dr. Janoff is overseeing studies here that will become part of NIH research. The VA is uniquely qualified to participate in such a research study, given the care, education and research it has provided for so long to so many veterans with a long list of debilitating illnesses.
Dr Janoff tells me: “Research is really necessary to have active and progressive and effective clinical care, so this kind of thing, what is the mechanism of long Covid, that if we can understand, it’s hormonal, immunological. What is psychological, probably not, but it’s probably an element. All of these things are aimed at understanding it, and once we understand it, then we can try to think about interventions.
Going forward, the Colorado VA has requested lengthy Covid clinical studies here, which could begin in a few months. The sooner the better as more veterans are dying who contract Covid and have other underlying conditions.
“Our main objective is to prevent hospitalization, respiratory failure and death, and people with these underlying diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, age over 65, diseases heart, liver, and lungs, those are the people with the worst outcomes,” Dr. Janoff told me.
Research is still emerging on multiple fronts in this country, with an executive order from President Biden recently seeking to expand the billion-dollar study underway at the NIH and the US Department of Health and Human Services. The order will also make Covid long-term care as accessible as possible and ensure the availability of insurance coverage, both private and public.
UC Health also received a grant to research Covid long. Dr Janoff says this has really been an unintended and unwelcome consequence of Covid, and although it’s a hot topic right now, he says, it’s a very important topic, with so many lives at stake.
The reality of the research so far, which is still in its infancy, is that Covid is never really going to go away, the key is to develop long term solutions, how many people will get it, how bad it is was serious for them, how did they respond to treatment, what treatment did they use, who suffered from long-term symptoms?
But Dr Janoff cannot stress enough personal responsibility when it comes to preventing the onset or recurrence of Covid, getting vaccinated, wearing masks where appropriate, using anti-body treatments , etc.
He says veterans also need to be proactive, don’t be shy about talking with their doctor about ongoing symptoms and other underlying conditions they may have, especially those over the age of 65 years. But it’s a virus that doesn’t discriminate when it comes to age, so any research done for veterans will be applied nationwide. Dr. Janoff concluded, “What we do for veterans research is patient-centered, but it applies to everyone.