Three months after the first wave of COVID-19 in Norway, in the summer of 2020, over 100,000 of the participants in the Norwegian Corona Study answered a questionnaire in which we asked about their general health compared to one year ago. We were surprised that so many of those who had had COVID-19 said that they felt they had had poorer health than before. Nevertheless, the more than 1,000 covid patients and over 100,000 other participants had about the same amount of shortness of breath and airway symptoms, so we had to look elsewhere for an explanation for why some of those who had had covid felt bad.
Fortunately, many of the participants had also completed a text field where they explained their symptoms, and what we found surprised us: COVID-19 patients mentioned memory problems 100 times as often as those who had not had COVID.
We immediately understood that the virus, SARS-CoV-2 affects the brain and that it would be important to explore this further. In this project, we will look at how COVID-19 affects memory in detail and how the health of those who have had COVID develops in the time after the disease.
The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) causes COVID-19, a potentially fatal disease. More than 100 million people have been infected, and 2 million deaths have been reported. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11th, 2020. The long-term outcome of COVID-19 is not known, but the novelty of the disease, the severe symptoms in some patients, the dissemination of the virus throughout the body, and initial reports of medium-term negative health effects as well as our own data all argue for follow-up studies of COVID-19 patients.
In the proposed project, we will combine Norwegian Registries with a large cohort of COVID-19 patients and controls to characterize the long-term health of COVID-19 survivors.
The proposed project is based on a prospective cohort study that has already started. A group of committed researchers led by Arne Søraas have established a new cohort of 176.000 participants. All participants have completed an extensive baseline questionnaire and up to three follow-up questionnaires. The study has already obtained and used data from the Norwegian Surveillance System for Communicable Diseases (MSIS) and now plans to conduct a large-scale follow-up study of more than 4000 COVID-19 patients and controls through several other Norwegian registries.
The project will thus provide high-quality, empirical knowledge about the long-term health consequences of COVID-19.
The project will be led by the principal investigator (PI) and specialist in Infectious diseases, Arne Søraas, MD, PhD, together with an epidemiology team from Imperial College, London, the Cancer Registry of Norway, and the epidemiologist in our group. In addition, the investigations of memory after COVID-19 will be led by the PI and a neurocognitive team from the Department of Psychology, University of Oslo.