Long COVID: 4 biological risk factors may increase chances, according to study

Researchers say they have identified biological risk factors that could predict who is more likely to develop “long COVID.”

In a study published Tuesday in the journal Cell, the U.S.-based team said it had conducted a deep multiomic, longitudinal study of more than 200 COVID-19 patients from the time of their initial diagnosis to convalescence two to three months later.

Multiomics is where the datasets for different omic groups are combined during an analysis. Omics refers to branches of biology whose names end in -omic, like genomics.

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The study – integrated with clinical data and patient-reported symptoms – addressed four factors at the time of initial diagnosis, including type 2 diabetes, SARS-CoV-2 RNAemia, Epstein-Barr viral viremia, and specific autoantibodies.

In patients with gastrointestinal long COVID, T cells uniquely showed cytotoxic postacute expansion.

Cytotoxic T cells – which are predominantly produced in the thymus – kill virally infected cells and tumors, according to the British Society for Immunology.

A woman who experiences fatigue

A woman who experiences fatigue
(iStock)

Analysis of symptom-associated immunological signatures showed coordinated immune polarization – where immune cells adopt different programs and perform specialized functions in response to specific signals – into four health condition subtypes that exhibit divergent acute severity and prolonged COVID.

“We find that immunological correlations between [long COVID] factors decrease over time, leading to distinct convalescent immune states, “the group wrote, noting that the detectability of most long-term COVID factors at diagnosis underscores the importance of early disease measurements to understand new chronic conditions.

Jim Heath, lead researcher on the study and president of the Seattle Institute for Systems Biology, told The New York Times that 37% of patients – ages 18 to 89 – had reported three or more symptoms of prolonged COVID two or three months after infection. Twenty-four percent reported one or two symptoms, and 39 percent reported no symptoms.

Patients – many of whom were hospitalized – were examined for symptoms associated with long-term COVID-19, and researchers analyzed blood and nose grafts step by step.

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Of those who reported three or more symptoms, 95% had one or more of the four biological factors identified in the study when they were diagnosed.

Heath told the publication that autoantibodies were associated with two-thirds of cases of prolonged COVID. The group confirmed some of its results in a separate group of 100 patients and compared the results with data from 457 healthy people.

“We did this analysis because we know patients will go to doctors and they will say they are tired all the time or whatever and the doctor just tells them to sleep more. It is not very “So we actually wanted to have a way of quantifying and saying that there is actually something wrong with these patients,” he explained.

The study authors warned that the results were exploratory and that more research needed to be done.

In a report, researchers in Israel have said that data from people infected with the virus early in the pandemic suggest that vaccination may help reduce the risk of long-term COVID.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people can experience prolonged COVID conditions for four or more weeks after first being infected with the virus. These conditions can manifest themselves as different types and combinations of health problems.

Some people who have had a serious illness with COVID-19 experience multi-organ effects or autoimmune conditions and children may experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS).

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The agency said symptoms – apart from other types of post-COVID conditions that tend to occur in those who have had serious illness – for anyone who has had COVID-19 may include difficulty breathing, brain fog, joint or muscle aches, sleep problems, mood swings, change in menstrual cycle and change in smell or taste.

From July, long COVID conditions can be considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The best way to prevent conditions with prolonged COVID is to prevent COVID-19 disease.

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