SOME survivors of the coronavirus could develop autoantibodies that attack them instead of the virus, experts have revealed.
A new study has found that the immune system could turn on the body, as it does in illness such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
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Experts at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia found that these cells could be the reason why some people who have overcome the virus then suffer from long Covid.
If the autoantibodies present in coronavirus patients follow the same pattern as the above debilitating conditions then experts say they may not be able to find a cure for long-Covid.
The experts at Emory ran 52 blood tests of Covid patients who had been either severely or critically ill with the illness and had since been released from hospital.
The results revealed that 44 per cent of the group had autoantibodies that reacted to bits of human DNA.
Of the group that had been sickest, more than 70 per cent had the self-destructive immune cells.
Many patients also had antibodies that neutralised proteins that help the formation of healthy blood clotting - this is also known as the rheumatoid factor.
The experts say that this could explain why people who develop long Covid also have inflammation issues such as Covid toes and also why they experience cardiovascular issues.
It was recently reported that antibodies to the virus wane after a while and experts have previously stated that immunity only actually lasts a few months after a patient first contracts the virus.
The fact that experts can now test for the autoantibodies means that they will be able to start developing treatments for those who are suffering from long-Covid.
Autoantibodies are antibodies that the immune system makes itself fight.
Antibodies are immune proteins that are created by the B cells in the body and are made after a body identifies a new virus - such as Covid-19.
Genetic code becomes the instructions for B cells to prepare the weapons to fight the virus, but sometimes the system misidentifies human genetic code as the target and tries to destroy this instead of the virus.
Commenting on the paper Dr Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington, told the New York Times: “Anytime you have that combination of inflammation and cell death, there is the potential for autoimmune disease and autoantibodies, more importantly, to emerge.”
What is long Covid?
At the start of 2020 Covid-19 was new and unknown to most of the world and experts say there is still much that needs to be understood about the virus, including its side effects.
Dr Ben Littlewood-Hillsdon, chief medical officer of symptom assessment tool Doctorlink said one aspect of Covid-19 which is yet to be fully understood is its longevity.
"Firstly, it’s important to know that ‘long-Covid’ is not an official medical term, but a colloquial term being used to describe people whose symptoms go on for longer than the two-week symptom period officially recognised by WHO.
"As with the acute stage of the disease, the long-term symptoms are still far from being fully understood."
He added that it's important to understand that "long-Covid is yet to be officially recognised medically".
What are the symptoms?
The all-party parliamentary group (APPG) of MPs on the coronavirus have listed 16 symptoms.
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Dr Ann Marshak-Rothstein and Immunologist at the University of Massachusetts added: “You never really cure lupus - [patients] have flares, and they get better and they have flares again.
“And that may have something to do with autoantibody memory”, she added.
Concluding their report, the researchers said that the findings could be consequential in identifying patients who may need targeted therapies.
They added: “Longitudinal study of recovered patients will be critical in understanding the persistence of this autoreactive state, it’s role in the increasingly documented cases of ‘lingering’ Covid-19, and it’s propensity for conversion into self-sustaining autoimmunity in order to devise early rheumatological intervention strategies and establish effective long-term care protocols.”