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Saskatchewan researchers investigate long-term health effects of COVID-19

Matthew Cardinal’s hands still shake. His heart races at random. He’s lost some of his memories.

The 34-year-old ended up in the ICU after he was infected with COVID-19. He left earlier this month, but hasn’t made a full recovery.

“I don’t want this to cripple me for life,” Cardinal told Global News. “I’m not going to let this virus win.”

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‘It’s just surreal at this point’: Families of young COVID-19 ICU patients speak out

The Regina man said he’s connected with COVID-19 survivors across the country, many of whom have lingering symptoms. Cardinal said he worries about their health in the long run.

“It’s absolutely frightening,” he said.

While the initial symptoms caused by the virus are well-known, the long-term health effects remain unclear. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) are trying to change that.

A team of scientists from the university, VIDO-InterVac and the Canadian Light Source began the research last year, following reports of brain fog and stroke in recovered COVID-19 patients.

“This all… sounded very similar to things that we were already investigating around changes around blood vessels,” said Dr. Jake Pushie, a researcher with USask’s College of Medicine.

Those changes include inflammation and thickening of blood vessel walls, which can decrease oxygen flow to organs including the heart, brain and lungs, Pushie said.

Read more:
COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ warn of ongoing health issues months after diagnosis

“These are also organs where very small changes can have life-long consequences, you know, 20 years from now,” he said.

Researchers hope to determine whether similar changes happen in people infected with the virus, particularly those who recover.

“There may be long-term effects down the road that we don’t fully appreciate yet,” Pushie said.

The research team is looking at physiological changes in infected animals, as Pushie said human tissue is hard to come by.

In addition to long-term health effects, they hope to identify risk factors and possible treatments for people who’ve had COVID-19.

Pushie said it’s crucial this research happens now, so it can help people decades down the line.

“This is possibly one of the most important scientific endeavors that some of us are ever going to undertake in our lifetimes,” he said.

Click to play video: COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ describe shakes, trouble breathing weeks after testing positive

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