University of Tartu scientists launch research into long-term effects of COVID-19

Researchers of the University of Tartu invite 370 people who have had COVID-19 to participate in a follow-up study aiming to evaluate the factors associated with the severity and consequences of the disease. The study will involve patients of the family medicine centres with the largest number of coronavirus patients in Tallinn, Saaremaa and Tartu.

According to Anneli Uusküla, Professor of Epidemiology at the University of Tartu and principal investigator of the study “Analysis of COVID-19 cases and identification of risk groups in Estonia”, doctors have no previous experience with the long-term consequences of COVID-19 and its potential long-term effects on people, and therefore evidence must be gathered throughout the pandemic.

Medical researchers of the University of Tartu in cooperation with family medicine centres of Tallinn, Saaremaa and Tartu are launching a follow-up study in Estonia aiming to systematically analyse the factors associated with coronavirus infection, the severity of the disease and immune response, and the health consequences of the infection. During the study, researchers also aim to identify genetic markers that can be linked to the severity level of COVID-19 and the emergence of complications.

Involvement of participants

Family physicians will start inviting volunteer patients to participate in the study. “We cooperate with family medicine centres who have had the largest number of COVID-19 patients, because just like the corona cases are not distributed equally between family doctors, also the patients in our study are not equally distributed,” said Uusküla.

Participants in the study are asked about their health behaviour related to the disease, e.g. whether they smoke, and about their general health status, incl. mental health. They are also asked to respond to questions regarding their work-related and private social contacts and mobility, incl. before their estimated time of infection. A venous blood sample and a saliva sample are taken for immunological and genetic analysis.

During the study, the participants will visit the doctor twice: the first visit at the earliest suitable time from February to April, and a follow-up visit six months later. “We don’t know how long the symptoms persist after COVID-19 and what the symptoms are, or whether the disease has any long-term consequences on human health. Therefore, it is important for the participants to make both visits, so we can repeat the study in six months,” Uusküla said.

COVID-19 is a new disease and participants in the study can contribute to getting to know it better. Uusküla hopes that people who have had COVID-19 will actively participate in the study, regardless of whether they were treated at hospital or at home. “Thanks to them, we can get an overview who is more at risk of severe COVID-19, and what kind of help or care may be needed by people who have suffered from the coronavirus disease.”

The study has been approved by the Research Ethics Committee of the University of Tartu. The research team comprises researchers of four institutes of the University of Tartu, family doctors and medical residents. The gathered data will be analysed by employees of the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health, who have undergone in-depth training.

The study is financed by the Estonian Research Council from the European Regional Development Fund and from the state budget of Estonia under RITA1 project.

Further information:
Anneli Uusküla
Professor of Epidemiology of the University of Tartu, principal investigator
+372 518 3552