Long COVID has perplexed scientists for long. For the uninitiated, many COVID patients experience symptoms weeks or even months post-recovery, which is termed as long COVID, or post-acute sequelae SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) medically. Although initially believed to occur in severe cases, those with mild COVID also suffer from it. Not just that, people of any age group, healthy or otherwise, can also experience long COVID. These characteristics had stumbled scientists. Now, new research into it might explain this phenomenon to some degree. Scientists across several universities have identified four risk factors for long COVID.
About The Study
The said study was undertaken by researchers from various universities such as the University of Washington, the Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, and the Institute for Systems Biology (ISB).
- The scientists studied 309 patients for two to three months following COVID diagnosis.
- The patients were from ages 18 to 89.
- 71% of the 309 patients were hospitalised.
- They were questioned on 20 symptoms of long COVID.
The study was published in the journal Cell.
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The patients reported their long COVID symptoms, which were further grouped into four categories:
- Respiratory-Viral: fever, cough, body ache, shortness of breath, nausea, fatigue.
- Neurological: Depression, anxiety, dizziness, trouble concentrating, memory issues, sleep disturbances
- Gastrointestinal: Abdominal pain and diarrhea
- Other: Loss of taste and smell
Out of the 309 patients, 37% said they experienced at least three or more symptoms, and 24% said they had one or two symptoms. The researchers then took their blood samples and nasal swabs, analysing which they arrived at four risk factors for long COVID.
Risk Factors For Long COVID
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The following are the risk factors for long COVID as per the research:
1. Amount Of Coronavirus RNA In Blood
This means the virus load. Earlier, higher coronavirus load was linked to severe disease and even death. The level of coronavirus RNA in blood has now been identified as a risk factor for long COVID.
2. Presence Of Autoantibodies
Autoantibodies refer to antibodies found in patients suffering from diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy tissues. In fact, this was the most prominent indicator of long COVID as two-thirds of the patients had these autoantibodies. Not just that, such patients also had lower levels of protective antibodies to protect them against the novel coronavirus. It increases their risk of breakthrough infection, in which a vaccinated individual gets infected with the virus, the researchers noted.
3. Reactivation Of EBV
EBV refers to the Epstein-Barr virus, commonly called the human herpesvirus 4. It is known to infect the majority of the population in their earlier years but remains dormant. The reactivation of EBV, which as per researchers was caused by immune dysregulation during COVID infection, was found to be another risk factor for long COVID.
4. Type-2 Diabetes
It’s a chronic condition characterised by a high glucose level in the body as it’s unable to enter the cells. Type-2 diabetes was found to be another risk factor for long COVID. Interestingly, it is also among the co-morbidities that increase a person’s risk of COVID infection.
According to the study, of those patients who reported three or more long COVID symptoms, 95% of them had at least one of the four risk factors. Although not characterised as a risk factor, the researchers noted that females, as well as those suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), were more likely to suffer from at least one symptom of long COVID.
Treatment For Long COVID
There is no treatment for long COVID as of now. It largely revolves around managing the symptoms, either through lifestyle changes or medication. For example, if you experience forgetfulness then keeping a to-do list might help. Also, chalk out a daily routine and follow it as much as possible. Similarly, if you have body ache, extremely gentle exercises such as Yoga or Tai Chi might help in providing some relief. In any case, reach out to your doctor to know what the best strategy for you would be. Also, during the recovery period, which might take weeks or even months, be gentle with yourself. Do not overexert yourself or do activities that might make your long COVID symptoms worse. Eating balanced and nutritious food, doing physical activities that your body allows, and getting proper rest might help you to manage long COVID.
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