More than three years into the pandemic, millions of people claim to have suffered from Long COVID. For those who have claimed workers’ compensation benefits, Long COVID cases are the most costly. According to a new study, there soon may be scientific methods to confirm their condition.
According to a report by NBC News,scientists may have found clear differences in the blood of people with Long COVID — a key first step in the development of a test to diagnose the illness.
Researchers from Yale School of Medicine and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, with contributions from Stanford University, were able to identify a range of biomarkers and predict with 94% accuracy who had long COVID.
The research is among the first to prove that “Long COVID is, in fact, a biological illness,” said David Putrino, principal investigator of the new study and a professor of rehabilitation and human performance at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
Post-acute infection syndromes (PAIS) may develop after acute viral disease. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 can result in the development of a PAIS known as “Long COVID.” Individuals with Long COVID frequently report unremitting fatigue, post-exertional malaise, and a variety of cognitive and autonomic dysfunctions, however, the biological processes associated with the development and persistence of these symptoms are unclear.
In the new study published this month in Nature, 273 individuals with or without Long COVID were enrolled in a cross-sectional study that included multi-dimensional immune phenotyping and unbiased machine learning methods to identify biological features associated with Long COVID.
Several differences in the blood of people with Long COVID stood out from the other groups.
The activity of immune system cells called T cells and B cells — which help fight off germs — was “irregular” in Long COVID patients, Putrino.said. He also said that one of the strongest findings was that Long COVID patients tended to have significantly lower levels of a hormone called cortisol.
“It was one of the findings that most definitively separated the folks with Long COVID from the people without Long COVID,” Putrino said. The finding likely signals that the brain is having trouble regulating hormones. The research team plans to dig deeper into the role cortisol may play in Long COVID in future studies. A major function of the hormone is to make people feel alert and awake. Low cortisol could help explain why many people with Long COVID experience profound fatigue, he said.
Meanwhile simply boosting a person’s cortisol levels in an attempt to “fix” the problem is not yet recommended.
Dr. Marc Sala, co-director of the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive COVID-19 Center in Chicago, called the findings “important.” He was not involved with the new research. “This will need to be investigated with more research, but at least it’s something because, quite frankly, right now we don’t have any blood tests” either to diagnose Long COVID or help doctors understand why it’s occurring, he said.