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MaineHealth will study the long-term effects of COVID-19

A large sign reads Maine Medical Center outside the hospital in Portland.
Ari Snider
MaineHealth, which operates Maine Medical Center, received federal funding to run a study on the impact of increased testing access among certain at-risk communities.

MaineHealth, the state's largest health care network, will study the long-term effects of COVID-19.

The research will be funded by a $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, as part of a nationwide effort to try and understand why some patients infected by the coronavirus continue to suffer symptoms months after the initial infection with some experiencing relapses, and even new symptoms, after the acute infection has passed.

So-called "long COVID" can include prolonged or returning pain, headaches, fatigue and “brain fog," shortness of breath, anxiety, depression, fevers, chronic cough and sleep problems.

The Maine Medical Center Research Institute will be among dozens of institutions around the country participating in the study, known as the Researching COVID to Enhance Recovery, or RECOVER initiative.

According to a press release, West Virginia University and MaineHealth will lead an 11-site consortium across the country to enroll patients in the study, with a focus on rural and underserved communities.

Medical experts say it's not clear what the extent of after effects are, or why some patients have them and others don't. Mercy Primary Care Medical Director Dr. Su-Anne Hammond has compared "long COVID" to polio, where complications, such as muscular problems, did not become apparent until after the initial symptoms had cleared. Meanwhile, health experts with the Maine CDC point to lasting symptoms as another reason to avoid getting the disease, and continue to urge Mainers to get vaccinated.