a new study aiming to understand more about how our bodies respond to the disease.
Lying in bed alone in her central London flat, Emma Prentice struggled to breathe, move and eat as her body fought Covid-19.
Now the New Zealander has come home and signed up to a new study aiming to understand more about how our bodies respond to the disease.
The University of Otago has secured nearly $1 million in government funds to conduct the CANTATA study from its Christchurch base over three years.
The key goals are to understand how many New Zealanders have been exposed to Covid-19, how long antibodies may last in the body, and the medium and long term effects of the disease on the heart.
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Professor Chris Pemberton, who heads up the Translational Biodiscovery Laboratory at the Christchurch Heart Institute, said he expected to find many New Zealanders who were not even aware they had contracted the disease.
Overseas studies indicate the number of people who developed Covid-19 antibodies could be between two times and 10 times higher than the number of people diagnosed with the virus.
Prentice, who was teaching in London in March 2020 when she became sick, has never had formal proof she was suffering from Covid-19. However, she had all the symptoms.
At various times she was freezing cold, coughing continuously, struggling to breathe, had a temperature, loss of smell and severe fatigue.
For two weeks she could barely move from her bed. Her only contact with the outside world was daily phone calls with her sisters, both nurses, in New Zealand.
“There were no tests, and you only went to hospital if you were dying. You couldn’t get a taxi and ambulances weren’t turning up,” she said.
After two weeks in bed she was able to walk to her lounge. It was four weeks before she was able to leave the flat. On Christmas Day she flew home to New Zealand.
Pemberton said Prentice was a great starting point for the study.
“If we find she’s still got antibodies 16 months down the line then that’s an interesting find,” he said.
The researchers have already taken blood samples from Prentice, now they will continue to assess her health over the next three years to look at other impacts.
He hoped the study would test up to 3000 New Zealanders aged from 10 to 80 to see if they have been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies.
That would include people who had contracted Covid-19, people who believed they had not contracted it, people who had spent time in managed isolation, and vaccinated people.
“We don’t know what the long term or medium term effects post-Covid are going to be because it’s a new thing. It’s only been around for 18 months.”
Given the wide scope of the study, it would not be perfect but would provide valuable information to inform future government decisions, Pemberton said.
“It’s clear that vaccination is going to be very important in New Zealand’s path into future interaction with the rest of the world.”
The organisation had developed new tests to identify whether someone had contracted Covid-19 and how their body had dealt with it.
“We are particularly interested in looking at why some people develop ‘long covid’ and have a protracted recovery,” he said.
At least six people would be working on the study, but that could be expanded if the team was inundated with possible participants.
The funding was provided by the Government’s Covid-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund.