What Is PASC? Dr. Fauci Announces Study Into "Puzzling" COVID Long Haulers

The U.S. is launching an investigation into PASC, or 'long COVID'—a condition in which coronavirus symptoms persist after the virus has left the body.

In a White House press briefing on Wednesday, U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said the National Institute of Health (NIH) had been granted $1.15 billion in funding over the course of four years to look at PASC, how it affects the population, and how many people have it.

Scientists are referring to long COVID as post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC), where "sequelae" refers to a condition that is the result of a previous illness or injury. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes COVID.

The symptoms of PASC include fatigue, shortness of breath, "brain fog," sleep disorders, fevers, gastrointestinal issues and psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression in patients several months after their initial COVID infection.

These symptoms can be mild, but in some people they can be "incapacitating" with the potential for a "profound" impact on public health, according to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the NIH.

He said in a statement: "Our hearts go out to individuals and families who have not only gone through the difficult experience of acute COVID-19, but now find themselves still struggling with lingering and debilitating symptoms.

"Through the PASC Initiative, we now ask the patient, medical, and scientific communities to come together to help us understand the long-term effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and how we may be able to prevent and treat these effects moving forward."

Fauci said there are "a lot of important questions" about PASC that do not currently have answers.

He cited one "alarming" University of Washington study in which roughly 30 percent of patients involved reported ongoing COVID symptoms up to nine months after their initial illness, with fatigue being the most common symptom.

The NIH study will aim to answer questions such as what the underlying biological cause of long COVID is; how many people develop new COVID symptoms they didn't have as part of their initial infection; and whether COVID may "trigger changes in the body" that increase a person's risk of brain or heart disorders later in life.

Fauci said at the White House press conference: "I'm happy to say that yesterday there was the first in what will be a series of research opportunity announcements released for NIH initiative on this puzzling syndrome.

"The research studies will be looking at SARS-CoV-2 recovery cohorts, some that are already established and some that will be established. They'll be looking at large data banks from resources, such as electronic health records and health symptoms. And they'll be studying a number of biological specimens."

A woman lying on a couch
A stock photo shows a sick woman lying on a couch. Scientists have noted patients are experiencing symptoms long after their initial COVID infection, and they want to find out why. Fizkes/iStock