Unraveling causes of long COVID to find potential treatments

COVID-19 has affected the world for nearly four years, persisting in its consequences through post-viral syndrome. Scientists are gaining deeper insights into the causes and risk factors of long COVID, which will help as we explore new treatment options.

According to Bio.News, about 10-30% of COVID patients, including asymptomatic, experience one or more long COVID or post-COVID condition (PCC) symptoms for more than three months. The majority will overcome the symptoms; however, some contract a lifetime condition. Approximately 5-15% of PCC patients contract a long-term disabling symptom.

It was recently reported that out of 1,106 adults who caught COVID before vaccines were available, 22.9% of them had symptoms for the following six months. After a year, this dropped to 18.5%, and after two years, dropped to 17.2%.

The symptoms vary from mild to extremely severe, including lifelong disabilities like fatigue, breathlessness, neurocognitive effects, dysautonomia, and relapsing remitting, where new symptoms reappear or become significantly worse for a period of time involving multiple organs and systems. Alongside this, “a range of radiological abnormalities in the olfactory bulb, brain, heart, lung, and other sites,” according to Nature.

In 2021, a World Health Organization (WHO) working group released “A clinical case definition of post COVID-19 condition by a Delphi consensus,” which described the condition as occurring in “individuals with a history of probable or confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection, usually 3 months from the onset of COVID with symptoms that last for at least 2 months and cannot be explained by an alternative diagnosis.”

What are risks and causes of long COVID?

A recent cumulative review and study of more than 800,000 patients revealed the “risk factors significantly associated with developing PCC,” which found the following categories: those with high body mass index, pre-existing comorbidities, previous hospitalization or ICU admission, and women and smokers. Although, it was also found within the same study that individuals who fall into said categories who had received two doses of a COVID vaccination were connected to a lower chance of developing PCC.

A genetic study was released explaining the prevalence of PCC in different genes through a genome-wide association study. While the study is still ongoing, there were examples of gene-linked developments to PCC within the FOXP4 gene. “FOXP4 has been previously associated with COVID-19 severity, lung function, and cancers, suggesting a broader role for lung function in the pathophysiology of Long COVID.”

Are there any long COVID treatments?

Since COVID has been a very recent discovery, researchers do not know enough to create a flawless therapeutic treatment. However, scientists have been trying to narrow down the reasons behind the causes and severity of PCC through large studies like the ones mentioned above.

According to Bio.News, science has also been looking to the past for help. Oved Amitay, cofounder of the Long COVID Alliance and President and CEO of Solve M.E., stated, “Our belief is that there is a lot of knowledge that has been gained over the years that could really help unlock the current topic of long COVID—and the other way around: The renewed interest because of long COVID could really potentially help these people who had these diseases prior to COVID.”

To learn more about PCC, visit the Biotechnology Innovation Organization’s (BIO) Long COVID Virtual Event.

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