Newswise — FORT LAUDERDALE/DAVIE, Fla. – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, health care providers are finding more and more patients are experiencing lingering symptoms after recovering from the virus. These symptoms can vary from being bone-tired, utterly exhausted, or drained of energy , but in most cases they continue to negatively impact the patient’s overall well-being and ability to return to normal activities. While the medical community is still working hard to address the virus itself and racing toward a vaccine, there is very little known or being done to address these residual health issues being experienced by those now called “COVID long haulers.”
But all of that is about to change, thanks to research scientists at Nova Southeastern University (NSU.)
“With our long-standing research into ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, we’ve been selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to begin researching these symptoms in COVID-19 patients,” said Nancy Klimas, M.D. “Because the symptoms are so similar – joint and muscle pain, severe fatigue and memory and cognitive issues – to Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, NSU is uniquely positioned to study this emerging development in the pandemic.”
With more than 30 years of professional experience, Dr. Klimas has achieved international recognition for her research and clinical efforts in multi-symptom disorders, myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS), Gulf War illness (GWI), fibromyalgia and other neuro-immune disorders. Because of her expertise and the work she is involved with at the university, the CDC has awarded NSU a federal contract of more than $4 million to study these residual symptoms in COVID-19 patients.
NSU is the only institution to receive this federal contract.
Dr. Klimas, who is also the Director of NSU’s Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine, said that similar symptoms were identified in patients after other viral infections, such as the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003. Over the years, patients suffering from these symptoms were given a variety of treatments, including respiratory, cardiovascular and physical therapy. Unfortunately, it’s not a one-size-fits-all situation, and in some cases, existing therapies can actually make the patient worse.
That’s why this research is so important – with COVID-19 so widespread, there are going to be thousands upon thousands of long-haulers who are going to need help.
For this research study, NSU will work with the Florida Department of Health to identify potential participants. NSU researchers then will contact individuals to describe the study and to ask their interest and permission to be participate in the study. As you can imagine, this list is quite extensive – more than 40,000 patients and counting. In addition, NSU is working with partner health care providers, such as Community Health of South Florida, Inc. in Miami, to identify other patients. So between both pools of participants, NSU researchers want to have 2,200 individuals agree and opt in for the study.
“One of the things we want to ensure is that our group of participants is truly a diverse sample of people who are affected by this new syndrome,” said Nicole Cook, Ph.D., MPA, an associate professor of public health at NSU. “We hope to engage members of underserved communities, including minorities, who have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and therefore will likely have a higher number of ‘long haulers’.”
Cook said that the group will participate in various on-going online surveys to collect data, with a smaller sub-group (approximately 200) participating in clinic-based assessments. Regardless of which aspect of the study they are involved with, this research will not impact or impede any ongoing health care they may be receiving to treat their symptoms.
Along with Drs. Klimas and Cook, others on the NSU research team include Drs. Irma Rey and Alison Bested and nurse practitioners Drs. Violeta Renesca and Irina Rozenfeld.
“We need to understand and describe this new disease and we’re still in the early stages of learning about it,” said Klimas. “This study will provide the chance to see patients early on in their conditions, and that’s vital for development treatments.”
About Nova Southeastern University (NSU): At NSU, students don’t just get an education, they get the competitive edge they need for real careers, real contributions and real life. A dynamic, private research university, NSU is providing high-quality educational and research programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree levels. Established in 1964, the university includes 15 colleges, the 215,000-square-foot Center for Collaborative Research, the private JK-12 grade University School, the world-class NSU Art Museum Fort Lauderdale, and the Alvin Sherman Library, Research and Information Technology Center, one of Florida’s largest public libraries. NSU students learn at our campuses in Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach, and Tampa, Florida, as well as San Juan, Puerto Rico, and online globally. With nearly 200,000 alumni across the nation and globe, the reach of the NSU community is worldwide. Classified as having “high research activity” by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, NSU is one of only 50 universities nationwide to also be awarded Carnegie’s Community Engagement Classification, and is also the largest private institution in the United States that meets the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria as a Hispanic-serving Institution. Please visit www.nova.edu for more information.