Francis Collins, M.D. is the director of the NIH which is involved with a national study of long COVID. According to a report by Alaska Public Media, the NIH has committed $470 million for the study. Dr. Collins voiced his concerns that one of the most serious aspects of the pandemic may be long COVID.
Scientists have become more familiar with long COVID and its seemingly neverending health problems. Yet the cause is still a mystery. Dr. Collins believes that long COVID is not just one condition but many.
Long COVID’s Persistent Symptoms
The most common symptoms are fatigue, headaches, shortness of breath, and brain fog. Long COVID does not discriminate. It happens after mild or severe infections and in young and older people, all of whom may experience these symptoms for a year or more.
Millions Are Depending On Science For An Answer
There are four theories being investigated:
- Theory: the initial infection had never been resolved and symptoms may subside, but the virus remains in the patient’s system (viral reservoirs can exist and evade the immune system)
- Theory: the immune system does not turn off after COVID. Nancy Klimas, M.D. noted that the characteristics of long COVID are reminiscent of symptoms she observed in her patients with chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). Her opinion is that ME/CFS is post-viral; that the virus turns on the immune system, and the immune system fails to turn off. Dr. Klimas acknowledges that ME/CFS is not completely understood either. She said that the viruses that trigger the disorder are very inflammatory just like SARS-CoV-2.
- Theory: the immune system goes on the attack against itself. This is caused by certain proteins that are called autoantibodies. The disorders are called autoimmune diseases. Aaron Ring, M.D. is an immunologist. He said COVID-19 patients have been known to carry more autoantibodies than they have seen in autoimmune diseases.
- Theory: reactivation of other viruses. It is possible that a prior virus that had been dormant was reactivated through COVID -19. If that is the case, other viruses may be contributing to the chronic symptoms. A study recently showed that patients with long COVID were very susceptible to mononucleosis. It suggests that COVID-19 was the cause of the mononucleosis.
The above theories are only a few of the ideas scientists are pursuing. They hope they can eventually yield effective treatments for the millions of long COVID patients who are very often experiencing debilitating symptoms.