The Sheffield scientists behind pioneering research into long Covid

Scientists in Sheffield are pioneering a new type of MRI scan to try to gain a better understanding of long Covid.

Patients taking part in research at the University of Sheffield inhale zeon gas before having their lungs scanned to show how lung capacity and function are affected by Covid-19.

Experts hope it will hold the key to finding a treatment.

Prof Jim Wild, from the university, said: "In Covid lung disease, the lung gets pneumonia and then after that the lung recovers from the pneumonia but often people's ability to take up oxygen in the lungs doesn't recover as fast as we'd hope.

"We think that part of long covid is linked to that. I think what it can tell us is how the lungs are recovering with time and, hopefully, it can guide treatments and therapies. So that's the holy grail really."

Thousands of people across Yorkshire have been referred to long Covid clinics in the past year, according to statistics seen by ITV News. The figures show:

What is long Covid and what are the symptoms?

Long Covid describes a range of symptoms that persist for more than four weeks after infection. Symptoms vary but include fatigue, muscle pain and difficulty concentrating, or "brain fog".

From the latest figures, based on self-reporting from a representative sample of people in private households, fatigue continues to be the most common symptom - experienced by 51%.

Loss of smell was the second most common (37%), followed by shortness of breath (36%) and difficulty concentrating (28%).

Other symptoms that have been linked to long Covid include "brain fog", a lack of concentration, mental health problems and even hair loss among some "long haulers". 

Kay Whittle, who had the virus in September 2020, has suffered brain fog, muscle fatigue, chronic back pain, visual disturbances, pneumonia and loss of her sense of smell and taste.

"It has been a massive lifestyle change, and you have to take it on a daily or hourly basis," she said.

"I'm appreciative to be here, every day in that effect is good when there are more unfortunate people out there."

Doctors at specialist long Covid clinics across Yorkshire and Lincolnshire are hoping that the research will provide therapeutics for patients.

Dr Ram Hariharam, clinical lead at Sheffield's Post-Covid Rehab, said: "When they come to a doctor they want one pill cures all or they want someone who knows everything.

"Unfortunately the doctors, all the medical professionals, are dealing with exactly the same."

He added: "It is not easy at all, it's new and there is still a long way to go."