All Scots who have tested positive for Covid-19 will be invited to take part in a landmark long Covid study.
Led by Glasgow University, researchers plan to use an app to collect information from people who have had the virus to see how many are still struggling.
Some of the most common effects include extreme fatigue, breathlessness, and cognitive impairment, otherwise known as brain fog.
Dundee doctor Tom Fardon, who has been living with long Covid for more than a year, has welcomed the “crucial” development.
Dr Fardon himself still suffers headaches but also high-pitched ringing sensation tinnitus.
Both of these are believed to be residual effects from his Covid-19 bout in April 2020.
The respiratory specialist says the major effort announced today should bring benefits for both himself, his patients, and others across the country.
The 44-year-old, whose symptoms have improved significantly in recent weeks, said: “All of us struggle with uncertainty.
“Having had long-lasting Covid-19 symptoms, I’ve struggled with whether they’ll get better and if so, how long it will take.
“My patients struggle the same and at the moment it’s very hard for me to give anything definite about recovery because we simply don’t know enough about this.
“I want to be able to tell my patients what’s going to happen and what treatments will be successful.
“We can only do that with quality research like this.”
Estimates of the number of people suffering with long Covid vary, and long-term effects are as yet unknown.
Another estimated one in 20 people with Covid-19 are likely to suffer symptoms for 8 weeks or more.
The UK has recorded 4.44 million cases so far — not including the huge number of suspected cases — meaning the scale of the problem is likely huge.
Experts believe health services will need to dedicate significant resources to tackling the problem over the coming months and years.
The Covid in Scotland Study (CISS) will use NHS health data records to contact all Scottish adults who have had a positive Covid-19 test.
It’s hoped it will reveal how many people continue to be unwell in Scotland, their symptoms and how it affects their lives.
Participants who tested negative will be asked similar questions about their current and past health.
This will be essential to the study, so that researchers can compare the health of those who have and those who have not had the virus.
Professor Jill Pell, professor of Public Health at the University of Glasgow, said: “Most people recover quickly and completely after infection with Covid-19, but some people have reported a wide variety of long-term problems.
“It is crucial that we find out how many people have long-term problems, and what those problems are, so that we can set up systems to spot problems early and deal with them effectively.”
Study will take time
Those who agree to participate in the study will be asked questions about their health before and after their Covid-19 infection via the app.
Participants will then be asked to answer the same questions again 12, 18 and then 24 months after their initial positive test.
Some participants will also be asked to take part in one-to-one interviews to discuss, in more detail, the impact of Covid-19 on their health and normal activities of living.
The University of Glasgow will lead the work in collaboration with Public Health Scotland and the NHS in Scotland.
It is being funded by the Scottish Government Chief Scientist Office.
Scotland’s chief medical officer Dr Gregor Smith added: “We recognise the longer term impacts Covid-19 is having on the physical and mental wellbeing of people in Scotland.
“Government, clinicians, specialist healthcare professionals and third sector organisations are working hard to ensure people have access to the support they need for assessment, diagnosis, care and rehabilitation in a setting that is as close to their home as possible.
“This new study will be a valuable tool to help us learn more about the effects of what is still a relatively new illness and ensure people receive the best possible treatment and care.
“If you are contacted to take part in the study I would strongly encourage you to participate – your insight will be extremely valuable.”
Recipients of text urged to take part
Dr Andrew McAuley, consultant scientist at Public Health Scotland, said: “Studies looking into the long-term effects of Covid-19 do already exist, but the majority are focused on patients who have been hospitalised, therefore only capturing a small number of the overall infections in the country.
“Crucially, this study will look at all Covid-19 positive cases irrespective of their initial symptoms, or whether they required any medical care during their illness.
“I urge all those who are invited to take part in this study to do so – answering some simple questions about your experience of Covid-19 can help shape Scotland’s response to long Covid.”