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May 23, 2024

New research brings hope for better understanding and treatment of long COVID

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Jan 19, 2024

A series of developments this week indicate progress in unraveling the mysteries of long COVID, giving new hope to the millions suffering ongoing symptoms months or years after a coronavirus infection.

Long COVID advocates push Congress for more support

On Wednesday, long COVID patients and advocates testified before Congress, asking senators to invest more resources into researching the complex medical condition and providing better care and disability benefits.

Patients conveyed the serious impacts long COVID has had on their health, ability to work, and quality of life. Their testimony put human faces on the growing crisis, which an estimated 30% of COVID survivors have endured.

“I was an active mother of two and IT professional when long COVID struck me,” said Diane Cabell, 52. “I’ve now been sick for over two and a half years and am disabled.”

Congressional support would fund more research and help agencies like the Social Security Administration process disability claims faster. Advocates argued better medical guidance is also urgently needed.

Study finds long COVID linked to overactive immune response

On the scientific front, an international study published this week found a potential root cause for key long COVID symptoms.

Analyzing blood samples from more than 200 patients, researchers discovered that many long haulers showed persistently high levels of proteins from the complement system – an arm of the immune response that fights infection by causing inflammation.

“It looks like the danger signaling molecules that trigger the immune response never get shut off,” explained lead author Resia Pretorius, a researcher at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

This failure to regulate inflammation may explain symptoms like fatigue, brain fog and cardiac effects that afflict up to 70% of long COVID patients months after infection.

“The good news is that we can therapeutically target these pathways with existing drugs once we finish characterizing the pathology,” said Columbia University’s Ian Lipkin, a study co-author. His team aims to develop a simple blood test to identify complement activation, which could enable better treatments.

Clues emerge on why women get long COVID more often

Further revelations came from researchers at Australia’s Monash University, who this week released new biospecimen data from the world’s largest study on long COVID patients.

In examining immune cells called T lymphocytes, patterns emerged that may help explain why women have almost twice the risk of developing long COVID compared to men.

“We found subtle but measurable differences in how key immune system cells respond to the virus in women versus men,” said lead author Carolina Lavin.

Specifically, women showed lower levels of certain T cells believed to combat the virus effectively. They also had higher amounts of proteins that trigger overly aggressive immune responses.

“This suggests women’s immune systems may have more trouble finding the right balance, leading to damage of healthy cells,” Lavin explained. “It gives us an important starting point to explore sex differences in long COVID.”

Understanding these distinctions could inform tailored treatments and preventive measures like vaccines.

Promising developments, but continued urgency needed

While this week’s developments mark measured progress, long COVID remains an under-addressed crisis affecting all aspects of society.

Millions of patients worldwide face deteriorating health, loss of work and independence, disbelief from doctors, and lack of support. As Diane Cabell implored Congress:

“Please continue to believe us, learn from us, and help us. We need urgent and immediate action, not continued delays.”

Ongoing research is gradually uncovering biological mechanisms that may lead to better diagnosis and care. But with 30-50% of COVID survivors becoming long haulers, more government assistance is critically needed to help people already affected get back on their feet.

Key Long COVID statistics

Percentage of COVID-19 survivors with long COVID symptoms 30-50%
Share still with symptoms 6+ months after infection Over 50%
Most common lingering symptoms Fatigue, brain fog, headache
Groups with highest long COVID risk Women, middle age, severe initial illness

There is no quick fix, but this week’s developments confirm that solutions are possible through continued collaboration between scientists, policymakers and patients.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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