New research provides a potential explanation for long Covid symptoms – breakthrough study

Long covid: Expert discusses number of people suffering in UK

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Coronavirus cases appear to be plummeting in the UK as coronavirus vaccines make their way into more and more arms. There is another health crisis that could keep the legacy of the pandemic alive, however. Long Covid, whereby symptoms of coronavirus persist for weeks or months after the infection has gone, afflicts many people in the UK. Health experts remain puzzled by the phenomenon and ways to treat the condition remain elusive.

However, two new research studies add to what could be a major piece of the puzzle.

It relates to Epstein-Barr virus, a dormant type of virus common in the vast majority of healthy adults.

Reactivation of dormant illnesses like the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) appears to be a driving factor in the development of long Covid.

The two studies examined the role of the reactivation of EBV in long Covid and more severe cases of COVID-19.

In the first study, doctors at Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China, looked at 67 hospitalised people who had both confirmed COVID-19 and an EBV test that their doctor ordered.

It is important to note that most of the patients initially eligible for the study did not undergo an ordered EBV test, so it might be that there was something different about these 67 individuals that led to this recommended screening.

Nevertheless, of those 67 people, around 55 percent were confirmed as having a reactivated EBV infection.

They found that these patients were more likely to report having experienced fever, although neither group of patients had a measured elevated temperature in the hospital.

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No other symptoms or vital signs differed between the groups.

In the second small study, researchers at universities in the United States and Turkey found that around a third of 185 randomly surveyed COVID-19 patients had symptoms at least 30 days after testing positive.

When the scientists tested blood samples from some participants, they discovered that 66.7 percent (20 out of 30) of those with long Covid had a reactivated EBV infection.

In contrast, only 10 percent (two out of 20) of those who did not develop long Covid were positive for EBV reactivation.

All 185 people in this group tested positive for COVID-19 more than 90 days before undergoing blood tests.

The scientists also analysed the blood of a second group of 18 patients 21–90 days after testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

This revealed a similar ratio between those with long Covid who had a reactivated EBV infection and those who did not.

The researchers said this suggests that reactivation occurred soon after or concurrently with contraction of the SARS-CoV-2 infection.

They concluded that infection with SARS-CoV-2 may reactivate EBV, which in turn may cause many long Covid symptoms.

“These findings suggest that many long Covid symptoms may not be a direct result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but may be the result of COVID-19 inflammation-induced EBV reactivation,” the authors wrote.

Long Covid – symptoms to spot

Common long Covid symptoms include:

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Pins and needles
  • Joint pain
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Tinnitus, earaches
  • Feeling sick, diarrhoea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
  • A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
  • Rashes.

“Contact a GP if you’re worried about symptoms four weeks or more after having COVID-19,” advises the NHS.

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