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New pilot study says long-haul COVID-19 symptoms linked to nerve damage

PITTSBURGH — A new pilot study out of Europe says the symptoms connected to long-haul COVID-19 could possibly be linked to the effect the virus has on what’s known as the vagus nerve.

“The vagus nerve is a nerve that has multiple functions. It controls activities such as breathing, swallowing, heart rate, your digestive tract,” said emergency care physician Dr. Amesh Adalja. “That may be something that at least they’re hypothesizing could explain long-haul COVID-19. If this nerve is damaged in certain individuals, it can have far reaching consequences with multiple different organ systems.”

Adalja cautioned that it’s too early to declare any kind of conclusion for long-haul patients. He said there’s more work that needs to be done on the subject.

“But it is an intriguing hypothesis and there’s some data behind it,” he said.

“There’s a lot of studies out there and so there’s a lot of research being done across the world. And post-COVID symptoms and long-haul symptoms are one of the things people are looking at,” said Dr. Brian Lamb with Allegheny Health Network. “This is going to be a study that we continue to follow.”

Lamb said this study could serve to be useful in the near future when it comes to treatment options.