RESEARCHERS from Southampton have joined a national study looking into the long-term impacts of Covid-19.

The University of Southampton is taking part in the UK Interstitial Lung Disease Long-COVID19 study, a £2m national project to investigate whether post-covid lung damage will improve or worsen over time, how long it will last, and the best strategies for developing treatments.

The University says many people recovering from Covid-19 suffer from long-term symptoms of lung damage, including breathlessness, coughing, fatigue and limited ability to exercise.

In severe cases, lungs become scarred, causing stiffness and making it difficult to breathe.

Early evidence indicates that lung damage occurs in 20 per cent of patients discharged from hospital, but the effects on people who experience long-Covid are currently unclear.

Now, Southampton is teaming up with 15 other research centres across the country to study what these impacts are with the aim of developing treatment strategies and preventing disability.

Dr Mark Jones, Associate Professor in Respiratory Medicine at the University of Southampton, who will lead the Southampton centre said: “The long-term consequences of COVID-19 infection upon the lungs are not understood.

"We will be working with clinicians and researchers around the UK to better understand what any long-term changes in the lungs are, and why in some individuals the changes are more severe or even progress over time.

"The ultimate aim is to develop new treatment approaches to prevent or halt ongoing lung damage."

To understand all of the impacts on the lungs, the study will include a range of patients, from those who have been hospitalised to those in the community who had less severe symptoms.

Researchers hope to recruit 250 people with symptoms suggestive of possible lung scarring, such as breathlessness or a persistent cough, to find out more about their long-term damage.

Cutting-edge xenon MRI scans will be performed to measure the effectiveness of gas exchange inside the lungs and scientists will also obtain samples of cells from the lungs of 50 people to look at how the lung cells have changed in response to the injury.

Researchers aim to use their findings to develop treatment strategies to prevent the development of severe scarring and disability following COVID-19.

The study is led by Imperial College London and funded as part of UKRI’s COVID-19 Agile Call, which has so far invested more than £180m in over 450 projects addressing the impacts of the pandemic.