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This Canadian scientist had a bad case of ‘long COVID,’ and now she’s studying it

A respiratory scientist and COVID-19 long-hauler is using her expertise in immunology to study the long-term, potential autoimmune effects of the condition.

Manali Mukherjee, who is an assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, contracted COVID-19 a year ago. Since then, she has been plagued with brain fog, dizziness and a distorted sense of smell that causes headaches.

Mukherjee told CTV News Channel on Saturday it took months for the symptoms to subside, and she is still not fully recovered.

“I think my story’s not very different from a lot of people out there,” Mukherjee said.

Studies have shown the rate of people who get ‘long COVID’ is between 20 and 50 per cent of those who contract the virus.

While more research is being done into ‘long COVID,’ Mukherjee says many who suffer from the condition struggle to get answers.

“Last year, there has been a number of situations where people have been coming forward and questioning, ‘What do I have?’ and the medical community had no answer for them,” Mukherjee said.

“The tests were coming back normal. So apparently you’re a picture of health, but you know yourself that you’re not feeling even 50 per cent of your usual health that was pre-COVID,” she added.

Mukherjee said the experience prompted her to do her own research.

“Given the fact that I had the training in immunology, I started on trying to understand what might be it that was causing all these persistent symptoms and complications, and started looking at the immunology and trying to find an answer,” Mukherjee said.

She said one hypothesis is underlying immune dysregulation may be causing ‘long COVID’ symptoms for some. She has launched a research project out of St. Joseph’s Healthcare to study this.

While there are many aspects to ‘long COVID,’ Mukherjee said she and her colleagues are working to analyze whether there is a subset of patients within the long-hauler community who will develop some form of an autoimmune disease.

“We’re looking at whether the immune dysregulation that is happening in some of the people after COVID… could lead to a long-term illness associated with immune dysregulation, where there are rogue antibodies created within your body as a response to the initial virus when you had the acute infection,” she said.

The study will follow 120 long-hauler patients over the course of one year, and Mukherjee said they’re still looking for participants.

People who have had a COVID-19 case confirmed by a PCR test or antibody serology testing that shows an infection, and have lingering symptoms, can reach out to her directly here.

Mukherjee said the prospect of having COVID-19 symptoms for an undetermined amount of time is a scary prospect for long-haulers, and she hopes to have some answers as to why this condition occurs by next year.

“Whether this is something that we’re going to have to live with or whether this is something that will wean out or whether some unfortunate may end up with a diagnosis for life… that’s what we are trying to tease out,” she said.

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