From early in the pandemic, DAN has been answering questions about returning to diving following recovery from a COVID-19 infection. After reading early reports about irreversible lung and heart damage in COVID-19 patients, many divers were concerned about health deficits that could prevent them from diving again. While these stories were scary prospects for divers, they usually came from case reports or involved a small number of patients and were not repeated or validated.
In April, DAN started planning a study about the long-term health implications of a COVID-19 infection for divers, including both scuba and breath-hold to encompass divers and watersports players. After several months of planning, the study was approved in August. DAN began communicating with participants, collecting data and translating the questionnaire into German, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French.
The research is a collaborative effort between DAN Chief Medical Officer Jim Chimiak, M.D., the study’s principal investigator, and DAN Research Director Frauke Tillmans, Ph.D., who is responsible for managing the study and coordinating the data collection. DAN Director of Medical Services Matías Nochetto, M.D., Assistant Director of Medical Services Camilo Saraiva, M.D., and several DAN research fellows are lending their expertise to communicate with participants and manage the data.
The study will use up to nine online surveys over the next five years to collect information from up to 1,000 adult divers who have confirmed or suspected COVID-19 infection. DAN intends to get a clear picture of possible health concerns by evaluating a broad range of dive activities after infection and documenting the severity of infections, recovery time, typical dive practices, and medical issues or health problems encountered while diving after recovery from the disease.
Case reports detailing long-term lung injury, heart or neurological issues are important to dive considerations. The current guidance for returning to diving, which is based on viral pneumonia because its features are similar to those of COVID-19, includes full recovery, rehabilitation to a previous baseline exercise tolerance and a formal physician’s evaluation for fitness to dive with assistance from a dive medical professional if necessary.
The DAN study’s primary goal is to provide divers, dive businesses and medical professionals with guidelines and recommendations specific to COVID-19. “The study should answer how a COVID-19 infection compares to other respiratory-distress syndromes and respiratory illnesses in terms of dive fitness,” Tillmans summarized.
Any diver who has had a confirmed infection, whether symptomatic or not, or has displayed COVID-19 symptoms can complete the initial online survey to enroll in the study. After the first questionnaire, participants will receive a follow-up survey every few months in the beginning, followed by annual assessments. Some participants may receive follow-up requests for medical records or fitness-to-dive evaluation results, all of which will be optional.
By evaluating divers’ experiences as they return to the water following COVID-19, DAN researchers hope to provide the dive community with comprehensive guidance about what to expect after recovery.
To participate in the study, enroll at research.net/r/DANcovidstudy. For more information, email .
© Alert Diver — Q1 2021