UArizona Health Sciences researchers awarded $7.3M to study long COVID

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Long COVID, also known as post-COVID-19 conditions, includes a wide range of health consequences that persist or begin more than four weeks following initial SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Researchers from the University of Arizona Health Sciences received $7.3 million in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to participate in a national effort to track the impact of post-COVID-19 conditions in diverse populations of children, adolescents and adults.

The effort is known as Track PCC, which is short for "Tracking the Burden, Distribution, Impact of Post COVID-19 Conditions in Diverse Populations for Children, Adolescents, Adults."

"The University of Arizona has been at the forefront of COVID-19 research since the start of the pandemic, which leaves us well-positioned to explore answers to vitally important questions about the long-term effects of COVID-19," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins. "Thanks to the generous support of the CDC and our key partnerships with state agencies, we will be explore potential solutions to improving the health and well-being of people affected by long COVID, not only in Arizona, but nationally and around the world."

Jennifer Andrews, associate professor in the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson's Department of Pediatrics, is one of three co-principal investigators who will lead Arizona Track PCC. The study seeks to understand the long-term effects of post-COVID-19 conditions across all age groups and in underserved communities or population groups who experience disparities, including Hispanics, Native Americans, children and people with special health care needs.

"Arizona was hit hard by the pandemic with the second-highest number of COVID-19 deaths per 100,000 residents compared with other states," said Andrews, who will lead the study with co-principal investigators Kristen Pogreba-Brown, associate professor and epidemiologist in the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and a BIO5 Institute member, and Susan Robinson of the Arizona Department of Health Services. "Our involvement in this program ensures that the diverse rural and cultural populations unique to our state are represented in the data. Our additional focus on the inclusion of individuals with special health care needs pays special attention to the differing needs of that unique population."

UArizona Health Sciences is one of five national sites participating in the CDC's Track PCC initiative. The other sites are Temple University, the University of Indiana and Comagine Health, with ABT Associates acting as the data coordinating center.

As part of Arizona Track PCC, researchers will estimate the number of people experiencing post-COVID-19 complications in Arizona through use of data in health care records and administrative databases.

The long-term health impacts of SARS-CoV-2 infection are referred to by names that include long or long-haul COVID, post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 conditions. PCC includes a wide range of health consequences that persist or begin more than four weeks following initial SARS-CoV-2 infection.

Arizona Track PCC will follow at least 1,000 individuals over two years to track the progression of post-COVID-19 conditions over time. Data will be collected and analyzed in partnership with the Arizona Department of Health Services and other health care partners.

The project will work closely with CoVHORT, which was established early in the pandemic to track the direct and indirect impacts of COVID-19 in Arizona. With more than 8,500 participants and growing, CoVHORT helps researchers learn about trends in post-COVID-19 conditions, monitor health outcomes, recommend prevention and care strategies, and inform the community of problems resulting from exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

In the ongoing CoVHORT study, participants who experienced milder cases of COVID-19 commonly experienced symptoms that included fatigue, headache, body aches, loss of taste or smell, and cough. Most cases resolved after several weeks; however, approximately 20% of participants went on to develop severe disease.

CoVHORT also found that 68.7% of participants noted continuing symptoms 60 days post-infection, though researchers found it challenging to distinguish the effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection from known preexisting health conditions, previously undetected chronic conditions, and the indirect effects of the pandemic such as fatigue and anxiety.

The Arizona Track PCC is emphasizing inclusion of underserved populations through partnerships with Southern Arizona health centers including the Arizona Department of Health Services, the Mariposa Community Health Center, El Rio Community Health Center, MHC Healthcare, the Sunset Community Health Center, the Chiricahua Community Health Center and Children's Clinics of Southern Arizona.

Co-investigators from the Zuckerman College of Public Health include Sydney Pettygrove, associate research professor; Leslie V. Farland, assistant professor and BIO5 Institute member; Velia Leybas Nuno, interim assistant dean of diversity, equity and inclusion; Felina Cordova-Marks, assistant professor; Kacey Ernst, professor and program director of epidemiology; and Elizabeth Jacobs, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics. Other co-investigators include Pamela Garcia-Filion, associate research professor in the College of Medicine – PhoenixVignesh Subbian, assistant professor in the UArizona College of Engineering, associate director of health data sciences and research at the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics and BIO5 Institute member; and Vern Pilling, director of biomedical information services at the Center for Biomedical Informatics and Biostatistics.

This project is funded by the Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (1NU58IP000005-01-00).

A version of this article originally appeared on the UArizona Health Sciences website.