Cambridge scientists are studying whether our genes play an important part in determining who develops long Covid and who is spared. Vertigo, extreme fatigue, breathlessness, brain fog and fainting – according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS) long Covid has left approximately 1.1 million UK citizens with debilitating symptoms, in some cases, for months on end. For the last 12 months the emphasis has been on saving lives, but following a recent decrease in hospital admissions, the focus appears to be shifting into a growing concern that many of us are suffering with Covid’s long term health consequences.
Long Covid sufferers are classed as patients who have harboured Covid symptoms for more than three weeks. By extracting the DNA of volunteers who have experienced long Covid, Sano Genetics in Cambridge are looking to identify genetic markers that will indicate why some people make a rapid recovery from the disease while others experience frustratingly prolonged symptoms.
For many the research is already extensively overdue, as a host of long Covid sufferers have criticised the government for its lack of effort in trying to understand the condition and how it could be treated. Dr Tamara Keith, a GP at Bottisham Medical Practice, echoes the criticism describing the lack of knowledge from a medical perspective as “frustrating” and has left many health professionals “feeling a bit useless for the patients”.
Despite the lack of knowledge, in October 2020, NHS England announced plans for the opening of long Covid clinics to ensure specialist support could be given to those who are referred by their GP after suffering with the condition for over 12 weeks. As of January 2020, the £10 million initiative has opened 69 clinics all operated by NHS workers. However, depressingly ironically, many of those suffering with long Covid are NHS staff, with the ONS study revealing 122,000 NHS personnel have the condition, resulting in the highest rates of any other profession. Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, warns that dealing with long Covid in NHS staff will be “a significant challenge for months and most likely years to come”- a crippling prospect for an already weathered NHS.
Currently, even the most basic questions regarding recovery times and treatments remain uncertain, highlighting the importance of this genetic research to understand long Covid from a biological perspective and identify who is most at risk. For many, treatments couldn’t come soon enough as long Covid continues to impact people’s return to work as well as their quality of life. To them, this research is not only essential, but urgent.