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HomeWorldThe McMaster study builds on the link between long COVID and autoimmune...

The McMaster study builds on the link between long COVID and autoimmune diseases like lupusNews WAALI

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Some long-term COVID patients, who experience symptoms like fatigue and shortness of breath, are showing signs of autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, according to a McMaster University study that builds on similar findings elsewhere.

Manali Mukherjee, who led the study and is a respiratory researcher, said two specific abnormal antibodies, or autoantibodies, that attack healthy tissue and are known to cause autoimmune diseases persisted in about 30 percent of patients a year after they were infected.

The research was based on blood samples from patients diagnosed with COVID-19 between August 2020 and September 2021 and treated at two hospitals in Vancouver and another in Hamilton.

Persistence of autoantibodies for a year or more suggests patients need to see a specialist who can test for signs of an autoimmune disease, she said of conditions that include type 1 diabetes and multiple sclerosis.

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“If you have long COVID symptoms, even 12 months after you got COVID, please consider a rheumatology evaluation just to make sure there is no pathway to systemic disease,” Mukherjee said.

The study, in which Dr. Chris Carlsten, from the University of British Columbia’s Department of Respiratory Medicine, was published Thursday in the European Respiratory Journal and included 106 patients.

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The work supports emerging research on long COVID, which primarily affects women, Mukherjee said.

A study of 300 patients, published earlier this year by researchers in the US in the journal Cell, first showed that autoantibodies can lead to long-lasting COVID symptoms in those infected with the virus, but it was limited to three to four months after Recovery limited, Mukherjee said.

“There is no long-term hold-through of COVID,” says the patient

A Swiss study of 90 patients, published in the journal Allergy last April, suggested that autoantibodies may be present in 40 percent of patients a year after infection.

“But this study confirms the presence of specific autoantibodies and is further associated with the persistence of fatigue and breathlessness, two key long-term COVID symptoms, at 12 months,” she said.

Mukherjee, who contracted COVID herself in January 2021 after beginning her research into the disease, said she suffered from fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches and brain fog.

“The headaches used to be so bad and they come back. You’ll be fine, and then all of a sudden you’ll relapse,” she said, adding that she’s back to about 75 percent of her normal energy levels, but has learned to prioritize her health over long work hours and making sure she’s getting enough gets sleep.

Mukherjee is now studying COVID patients for over two years to see how their autoantibody levels change over the long term.

Calgary resident Sarah Olson said COVID has long prevented her from returning to her job as a kindergarten teacher since she contracted the disease in January 2021.

“There is no penetration. You keep getting sicker in new ways,” said Olson, who has a nine-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter and has been dealing with brain fog, fatigue, shortness of breath and other symptoms.

“Until this spring I could not stand still for long, but I could walk at a moderate pace. I can’t do that anymore. I need a walker. I’ll be 41 this Saturday and need a walker.”

Olson said she has also been diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome, although Mukherjee said a definitive link between this debilitating, long-term condition and long-term COVID has not been established.

Olson said the main concern is that she will never recover from a long COVID.

“If I’m not able to manage my symptoms by resting and pacing as much as I need to without ever getting stressed, then I have every reason to believe I’m going to get progressively worse ‘ she said through tears.

“Research needs to make a breakthrough because they’re still trying to understand what the underlying cause is,” Olson said, adding that treatment options may be a long way off.

“We’re almost three years old and we’re still in the dark on a lot of things.”

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