How Long COVID could harm your immune system

In a recent study published on medRxiv, researchers have delivered crucial insight into the lasting immune system dysregulation caused by COVID-19.

They showed that people’s immune systems were strongly altered six months after their COVID-19 infection, with the immune cells and gene expression experienced during this post-infection period holding clues to the intriguing ‘Long COVID’ symptoms affecting some patients.

The study is from Flinders University. One author is Professor David Lynn.

In the study, the immune systems of 69 participants between 20 and 80 years of age were examined over a six-month period, following infection with the original strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Of the total cohort, 47 were recovering from a mild infection, six were from moderate and 13 were recovering from severe or critical COVID-19 disease.

The analysis examined antibody responses, the expression of thousands of genes in the blood, and approximately 130 different types of immune cells, via blood samples taken at 12, 16 and 24-weeks post-infection. Responses were compared to healthy controls.

The results show that the immune system of people previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 was strongly changed until at least six months post-infection.

The team found substantial dysregulation of immune cell numbers that were strongest at 12-weeks post-infection but was still evident in most cases for up to six months and potentially even longer.

In addition to an increased number of immune cells and antibodies, there was also strong dysregulation of gene expression, particularly in those genes linked to inflammation.

Gene expression refers to information stored in DNA that regulates how cells respond to changing environments.

This can include controlling when and how much response is made against an invading virus.

The study didn’t have the capacity to analyze the extent to which participants were experiencing the symptoms commonly associated with Long COVID, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain and brain fog.

However, the team says it’s likely these symptoms are related to the upheaval of immune cells and gene expression.

The reason why some individuals are so harshly affected by Long COVID, while others are barely affected, remains a mystery.

If you care about long COVID, please read studies about the potential cause of COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ and findings of more than one third of COVID-19 patients suffer from ‘long-COVID’.

For more information about long COVID and your health, please see recent studies about you’re much less likely to get long COVID if you’ve been vaccinated and results showing that for many, long COVID looks a lot like chronic fatigue.

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