Long COVID-19: Study author explains four factors that can predict how you get it
(The hill) – Long COVID-19 has had an air of mystery around it for months. Doctors are struggling to explain or understand why some people who get COVID-19 end up having lingering symptoms like fatigue, trouble thinking clearly or shortness of breath weeks or even months later.
A new study published in the journal Cell helps shed light on the condition, identifying for the first time four factors that can help predict whether someone will develop long-lasting COVID-19.
“Being able to identify the factors that can cause the disease, cause the chronic disease, is the first step to defining that it is in fact a disease that can be treated,” said Jim Heath, president of the Institute for Systems Biology in Seattle, and an author of the study, said in an interview. “And then some of those factors are also actually the kind of things you can imagine developing treatments for.”
The most important factor identified by the study in predicting long COVID-19 is the presence of certain types of antibodies called autoantibodies, which mistakenly attack healthy parts of the body. Autoantibodies are associated with autoimmune diseases, such as lupus, where your immune system attacks your own body.
But someone doesn’t need to have an autoimmune disease to have autoantibodies present and be at higher risk for COVID-19 in the long term, Heath said.
“Most people who have autoantibodies don’t really know it,” he said. “They are what you call subclinical…you may have a risk of autoimmune disease but it hasn’t developed.”
Still, he said a practical application of the study is that treatments for lupus might be “worth exploring” as treatments for the long COVID-19.
The second factor that can lead to long COVID-19 is the reactivation of a different virus called Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), which is extremely common, infecting up to 90% of people at any given time, and often causes only mild symptoms.
The virus usually becomes inactive in the body after initial infection, but it can be reactivated when a person contracts COVID-19, which contributes to long-lasting COVID-19 symptoms.
Heath said EBV could be reactivated when the immune system is distracted by fighting COVID-19.
“It may be that the big distraction of COVID-19 infection is distracting that attention,” he said.
The third factor identified is the amount of virus that causes COVID-19, officially called SARS-Cov-2, present in the blood, known as “viral load”.
This factor, along with the role of EBV, suggests that new antiviral drugs that combat the immediate effects of COVID-19 infection, such as the Pfizer Paxlovid pill, may also be useful in the treatment of long-lasting COVID-19. .
“Two of those predictors are virus levels in the blood,” Heath said. “So that suggests that those antivirals that are used to treat acute illnesses likely have a role for long COVIDs as well.”
The last of the four factors that can long predict COVID-19 is more easily identifiable: whether a patient has type 2 diabetes.
While these four factors are a step forward in understanding the causes of long COVID-19 and aiding in the development of treatments, the mechanism of why they are associated with long COVID-19 is still not entirely clear.
“They have a flavor of mechanistic factors,” Heath said. “The actual mechanism is unclear.”
The study followed 309 COVID-19 patients, collecting blood and swab samples at different times.
Additionally, vaccination is a way to likely reduce the risk of prolonged COVID-19. A separate study from the UK found that vaccinated people were 41% less likely to develop long COVID-19.
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