What causes long COVID symptoms?

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In a new study from the University of New South Wales, researchers found an immune profile for long COVID, potentially paving the way for better treatment for those with ongoing symptoms.

Unvaccinated people with long COVID—even those whose initial infection was mild or moderate—have a sustained inflammatory response for at least eight months following their infection, suggesting that long COVID is very different from other infections.

In the study, the team used collected samples from unvaccinated people during Australia’s first pandemic wave.

They examined blood samples from 62 people with and without long COVID for a variety of ‘immune biomarkers.” Patient samples were analyzed at three, four and eight months following initial infection.

The team compared these to people who had not had COVID-19, and they found persistently elevated levels of Type I and Type III interferons—types of protein cells make in response to the presence of a virus.

These interferons generally disappear after infection clears, but in patients with long COVID, they were present for an extended period.

“One of the most surprising aspects of the analysis is that people don’t need to have had severe COVID to experience these ongoing immunological changes.

This suggests that the pathophysiology—that is the disordered physical processes associated with long COVID—apply regardless of disease severity.

This study provides the strongest evidence to date for a clear biological basis for the clinically apparent syndrome of long COVID.

The researchers say that understanding the immune profile for long COVID will help the development of treatment and management of long COVID.

They are currently looking at some data from the Delta wave to understand whether vaccination may reduce the possibility of long COVID.

If you care about COVID, please read studies about the most effective face-mask practices to reduce spread of COVID-19, and symptom in people with ‘long COVID’ that may signal heart damage.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about drug that could help treat lung damage in COVID-19, and what you need to know about omicron and COVID boosters.

The study is published in Nature Immunology. One author of the study is Dr. Chansavath Phetsouphanh.

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