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Texas Neurologist Points To Possible Autoimmune Response With 'Long COVID'

a 3D model of the SARS COV2 virus
A Dell Medical researcher says it's unclear whether new coronavirus variants are to blame. "With every new finding, there are 10 new questions that are raised," she says.

From Texas Standard:

As researchers learn more about COVID-19, they’re also learning more about its long-term effects. A small proportion of people who’ve had the disease also have symptoms long after the initial infection. The condition is known as “long COVID,” and for some, it persists even six months after infection.

Dr. Esther Melamed, an assistant professor of neurology at UT Austin’s Dell Medical School, is researching the condition with colleagues. She told Texas Standard one curious aspect of long COVID is that you don’t need to have had severe symptoms; some people with the condition never needed intensive care and some were even asymptomatic.

One explanation she’s researching is whether the coronavirus triggers an autoimmune reaction in some people, causing them to feel fatigue, headaches, pain and neuropsychological symptoms for months.

“Perhaps that may be one of the factors that could explain why people with mild or asymptomatic COVID may continue to experience symptoms post-COVID,” she said.

People with comorbidities like obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes or mental health issues may also be predisposed to COVID-19 and long COVID, Melamed says.

Research is also showing that while men are more likely to have severe symptoms, women appear more likely to be long-haulers. Melamed says that could be attributed to genetic differences or even behavioral differences.

“It’s unclear whether this is true genetic difference or environmental difference, or it may be that women are seeking care more often than men are,” she said.

So far, Melamed said, it’s unclear whether different variants of the coronavirus are responsible for different symptoms, including the ones associated with long COVID.

“With every new finding, there are 10 new questions that are raised,” she said.

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Michael Marks
Caroline Covington is Texas Standard's digital producer/reporter. She joined the team full time after finishing her master's in journalism at the UT J-School. She specializes in mental health reporting, and has a growing interest in data visualization. Before Texas Standard, Caroline was a freelancer for public radio, digital news outlets and podcasts, and produced a podcast pilot for Audible. Prior to journalism, she wrote and edited for marketing teams in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industries. She has a bachelor's in biology from UC Santa Barbara and a master's in French Studies from NYU.
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