After a year and a half of the pandemic, doctors are becoming more proficient at identifying long COVID, a group of chronic health issues that some individuals have following a coronavirus infection. However, research has not yet identified the possible cause of the sickness. Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, which is investing $470 million on a national research on extended COVID, stated that “most likely it’s more than just one disorder.” Perhaps the most alarming aspect of this pandemic is its long-term repercussions on humans.
Long COVID is a type of sickness that can take on several forms and exhibit a variety of symptoms. After comprehensive research, a major international study has found more than 200 symptoms that could be linked to the virus. The most frequent ones include headaches, exhaustion, mental confusion, and shortness of breath. Both elderly and young persons may experience it following both severe and minor illnesses.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10% to 30% of persons who contract the coronavirus will experience lingering symptoms that continue for at least a month. Many people with protracted COVID still experience symptoms for many months or even a year after the original infection.
The potential biological mechanisms behind the disorder are the subject of several lines of research by scientists, who are optimistic that their work may eventually lead to effective therapies for the millions of people who, at times, experience crippling symptoms. Although a specific cause of long-term COVID has not yet been identified, researchers from all around the world have provided three plausible suggestions regarding what can cause the chronic illness.
1. Blood clots and blood vessel damage
The cells and tissues that regulate blood flow may be harmed in some long-Covid patients, increasing the risk of blood clots, claims Danilo Buonsenso, a paediatric infectious disease doctor in Italy.
Buonsenso scanned the lungs of 11 kids with severe long Covid to look at the lungs’ anatomy using a high-tech medical imaging procedure called a SPECT-CT scan. The scans of five of the infants revealed significant lung regions that had little to no blood flow, which Buonsenso proposes may have been caused by minute blood clots or damage to blood vessel linings.
Buonsenso and his work colleagues have so far published their findings in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health, and additional research is being conducted to find out whether healthy Covid-19 survivors also have blood vessel damage or if apheresis, a procedure that filters blood and re-infuses it, may help long-term Covid patients with blood plasma microclots.
2. Persistent virus particles
Another possible explanation is that certain long-term Covid patients may be experiencing symptoms due to residual coronavirus particles.
The virus is capable of persistence in a wide range of body areas, including the nerves and other tissues, according to research, says Amy Proal, a microbiologist at the PolyBio Research Foundation in Washington state.
For instance, a Gastroenterology study that looked at 46 patients with Covid-19 and found that 21 of them had at least one symptom of extended Covid. The 21 patients with lengthy Covid had either viral RNA or viral proteins in their bodies. Additionally, the coronavirus was still present in the bodies of 11 other patients who had recovered from Covid-19 without any residual symptoms.
Proal and her colleagues are currently striving to conclusively link persistent virus particles to prolonged Covid symptoms. Colonoscopies will be used in one of the team’s planned experiments to search for the coronavirus in patients’ intestinal cells. Additionally, they want to look at the local immune cells to see whether any viral particles are activating them.
3. An overly responsive immune system
Last but not the least, some experts assert that coronavirus infection can weaken the immune systems of some patients, resulting in exaggerated immunological reactions that persist for months.
In a study that was released in Nature Immunology, blood samples from 31 long Covid patients were analysed. These patients had symptoms at least 3 months following the infection. All in all, the researchers discovered that the patients’ levels of interferons, or proteins designed to fight off infections, stayed high even eight months post-infection, and many of their T cells and B cells (T cells have the ability to destroy contaminated or infected cells and also direct the immune response by assisting B lymphocytes in eliminating invading germs. B cells on the other hand, produce antibodies) were still stimulated – which likely contributed to chronic inflammation and other health issues.
Even though study on extended Covid is still in its early stages, most experts concur that the disorder is unlikely to have a single cause or “solo operators.”
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