U of U Well being leads nationwide research of “lengthy COVID” in adults and through being pregnant

10/28/2021 3:30 PM

Scientists from the University of Utah Health are at the forefront of two large studies examining the long-term effects of COVID-19. The statewide studies, supported by the National Institutes of Health, will attempt to answer key questions about the persistent effects of the viral disease on pregnant women and their infants, as well as the reasons why some people develop post-acute effects of SARS-CoV-2 ( PASC), including “long COVID” and others not.

PASC affects up to 30% of COVID-19 patients and causes a variety of persistent and potentially serious symptoms. These include tiredness, difficulty breathing, memory problems, chest pain, and a fast or pounding heart. The two groups are part of a larger NIH initiative, the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery (RECOVER) initiative, which PASC seeks to understand, prevent, and treat.

Assessing the Effects of COVID-19 on Pregnancy and Newborns

One of the important but still unanswered questions about COVID-19 and PASC is what impact the disease can have on pregnant women and their babies.

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Torri D. Metz, MD, MS, Maternal and Fetal Medicine Specialist and Associate Professor at U of U Health. Photo credit: Charlie Ehlert

“We really don’t understand the long-term consequences of getting COVID-19 in pregnancy right now,” said Torri D. Metz, MD, MS, a maternal and fetal medicine subspecialist and associate professor at U of U Health , who leads a multicenter initiative seeking answers to this question.

Previous research suggests that pregnant people with severe COVID-19 are three times more likely to receive intensive care and twice as likely to die from the disease than non-pregnant people. While mother-to-child transmission of the virus is rare during pregnancy, up to 3% of babies born to women with COVID-19 will test positive for the virus after birth.

“It is possible that the disease progresses differently in pregnant women because their immune system works a little differently than in non-pregnant women,” says Metz. “With regard to the offspring, we know the importance of the in-utero environment for babies and we fear that the inflammatory process that occurs when pregnant patients develop COVID-19 can affect the babies in utero and after birth . “

Over the next four years, Metz and her colleagues from 12 other medical institutions across the country participating in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver NICHD Maternal-Fetal Medicine Units (MFMU) Network will monitor the health of approximately 1,500 women who developed COVID-19 while pregnant and their children who were born in the following days, weeks or months are followed. They will also track the health status of approximately 250 women who did not get COVID-19 during pregnancy and their offspring.

In particular, the researchers are looking for impairments in cognitive development or cardiovascular complications in the growing children. They will also compare the long-term effects of PASC on mothers who had COVID-19 during pregnancy with uninfected pregnant individuals.

Find out why some people get “Long COVID”

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Rachel Hess, MD, co-director of the Utah Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI). Photo credit: Charlie Ehlert

Rachel Hess, MD, co-director of the Utah Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), leads an initiative by the Mountain States PASC Consortium (MSPC), a coalition of five health systems in Utah, Colorado and New Mexico. The group will compare COVID-19 patients who have or have had PASC with those who have had COVID-19 but did not develop long-term symptoms.

“My greatest hope for the MSPC study is that we can develop a better understanding of why some people have really debilitating PASC symptoms and ultimately help them get back to normal – or get as close to them as possible,” says Hess.

The consortium plans to recruit more than 900 adults ages 18 and older for the study, including a variety of volunteers from the Hispanic, Native American and rural populations in the Mountain West region.

“Since this is such a new syndrome, it is important to find out what is different in people who develop PASC from COVID-19,” says Hess. “This study could help us better define what this syndrome is and improve our understanding of its biological basis.”

The MSPC study includes patients newly diagnosed with COVID-19 as well as those who had COVID-19 during the pandemic. Others who are not infected with SARS CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are recruited as a control group.

“Tracking people currently suffering from COVID-19 could help us determine if there are any patterns early in the disease that would cause some patients to develop PASC later,” says Hess.


Institutions participating in the MFMU Network’s COVID-19 pregnancy study include U of U Health, George Washington University, the University of Alabama, Northwestern University, Brown University, the University of Texas Medical Branch, the University of Pittsburgh, Case Western University, the University of North Carolina, Ohio State University, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Texas-Houston.

The U of U Health-led MSPC study of PASC in COVID-19 patients includes researchers from the University of Colorado, University of New Mexico, Denver Health, and Intermountain Healthcare.

Research News COVID-19 Infectious Diseases iii

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