McMaster researchers crafting post-COVID condition guidelines

Head and shoulders of Holger Schunemann.

A project co-led by clinician-researcher Holger Schünemann has received $9 million in federal funding to develop guidelines for post-COVID-19 Condition, commonly called long COVID.

McMaster clinician-researcher Holger Schünemann is receiving $9 million in federal funding to develop official guidelines for post-COVID-19 Condition (PCC), commonly known as Long COVID.

Schünemann’s project, titled McMaster Development and Dissemination of Post COVID-19 Condition (PCC) Guidelines and Knowledge Translation Products, is being developed by McMaster in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

Cochrane Canada and the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) Centre at McMaster will develop, disseminate and evaluate six evidence-based health guidelines on PCC that will focus on its Canadian context, Schünemann says.

These guidelines, to be published early in 2024, aim to cover identification, prevention, assessment, management, follow-up and monitoring of people with PCC.

The large national team with links to global health organizations will be co-led by Robby Nieuwlaat from the Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact (HEI) and Nancy Santesso, Jan Brozek, Wojtek Wiercioch, together with a team of experts in the field at McMaster, plus Kevin Pottie at Western University.

“Post COVID-19 condition requires high-quality research to better understand and manage the problems that affected people face. This new research together with what is already known must be synthesized and provided to decision-makers, including the public, in ways that improves lives,” says Schünemann, a professor in HEI and director of Cochrane Canada and GRADE.

“At Cochrane Canada and the McMaster GRADE Centre, in collaboration with partners and the public, we are privileged to play a leading role in producing and implementing health guidelines based on the best available approaches to address PCC.”

Researchers will create easy-to-use tools to bring evidence into clinical practice and the community, paying particular attention to equity-deserving populations.

“The development of tools in parallel with developing the guidelines will help the public and health practitioners to access and use the recommendations in a timely manner,” Nieuwlaat says.

“Another component of this project will evaluate the uptake of the tools and recommendations to understand what was successful and what needs to be improved for the longer term.”

In addition to the $9 million for Schünemann’s research, the federal government is also investing $20 million in a long COVID research network to be led by the University Health Network and the University of Toronto.

“For some, COVID-19 is not something that lasts a few days. Its effects may stay long after the initial illness, making day-to-day living difficult,” said Minister of Health Jean-Yves Duclos.

“Today’s announcement of the Long COVID Web research network offers hope—and real solutions to come—to those living with post COVID-19 condition. Additionally, the development of new clinical practice guidelines will help to support health care workers and people in Canada in preventing, managing and recovering from post COVID-19 condition.”

What is PCC?
Health Canada says that anyone who experiences physical or psychological symptoms for more than 12 weeks after getting COVID-19 is classified as having PCC. The condition is not the same as COVID-19, as symptoms can be highly different from those experienced during the initial infection.

Common PCC symptoms include fatigue, breathlessness, memory problems, brain fog, general pain and discomfort, anxiety and depression, among others. More than 100 different symptoms have been reported.

The best way to avoid PCC is to avoid COVID-19 infections by taking measures such as getting vaccinated and wearing masks in public places. Early evidence suggests that vaccination with two or more doses before a COVID-19 infection may help reduce the risk of developing PCC.

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