In some people suffering from coronavirus, the virus may produce antibodies that attack the body, not the virus itself, a new study has found. These autoimmune reactions may be similar to lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, researchers say, and may explain the enduring symptoms of “long-haulers”—people who experience COVID-19 symptoms for many weeks or months after their bodies have technically cleared the virus. Read on for more of his warning, and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had Coronavirus.
Autoantibodies seen in majority of sickest patients
Normally, when a virus invades the body, the immune system produces antibodies to fight it off. But in some people with coronavirus, the immune system seems to produce “autoantibodies,” which attack human cells instead of viral ones.
Autoantibodies are also produced in autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, and treatments for those conditions may potentially help COVID long-haulers.
Published Friday on the preprint server MedRxiv, the study involved 52 patients in Atlanta with severe or critical Covid-19 and no history of autoimmune disorders. Researchers found almost half of them had autoantibodies. Among the most seriously ill patients, 70 percent did.
“In the sickest patients with COVID-19, autoantibody production is common – a finding with large potential impact on both acute patient care and infection recovery,” wrote Matthew Woodruff, an immunologist within the Lowance Center for Human Immunology at Emory University and co-author of the study.
COVID’s autoantibody production “could be a reason that treatment with dexamethasone, an immunosuppressant often used to quell ‘flare-ups’ of autoimmune disorders, might be effective in treating patients with only the most severe disease,” wrote Woodruff. “It is also possible that these responses are not short-lived, outlasting the infection and contributing to ongoing symptoms now experienced by a growing number of ‘long-hauler’ COVID-19 patients.”
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A cause for ‘Long COVID’?
Long-term COVID symptoms are not a rare occurrence. One recent study found that one-third of people who weren’t sick enough to be hospitalized with COVID may still have long-term symptoms. And an Italian study found that nearly 90% of people who recovered from COVID-19 reported at least one persistent symptom two months later.
According to the Long Hauler Symptoms Survey, long haulers have reported lingering symptoms affecting nearly the whole body, including fatigue, shortness of breath, pain, brain fog and other neurological problems.
Doctors have been stumped as to why. The new study, which is awaiting peer review, might provide an answer.
As for yourself, do everything you can to prevent getting—and spreading—COVID-19 in the first place: Mask, get tested if you think you have coronavirus, avoid crowds (and bars, and house parties), practice social distancing, only run essential errands, wash your hands regularly, disinfect frequently touched surfaces, and to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.