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This Scary Side Effect of COVID May Last Forever, Study Says

It could impact your health indefinitely.
FACT CHECKED BY Checkmark Emilia Paluszek
Young woman with headache

A few months into the pandemic, it became clear that some people—even those with mild to moderate infections—were experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 long after the virus was gone. The condition—long COVID or long hauler syndrome—continues to be studied by researchers around the world. In their struggle to understand the mysterious manifestation of the virus and all of its symptoms, researchers believe they might be one step further to understanding how antibodies impact the slew of scary symptoms long haulers experience. And, one new study claims that the infection triggers the production of antibodies, but instead of those antibodies fighting the virus itself, they are mistakenly attacking the individual’s own tissues. Read on to learn more about the scary side effect of COVID—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had Coronavirus

Autoantibodies Can Cause You Irreparable Harm

According to the latest preprint study involving nine patients, these antibodies—aka autoantibodies (tied to autoimmune disease including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis)—are causing irreparable harm long after the initial COVID infection has passed. This could explain some of the mysterious long hauler symptoms, including dementia, brain fog, and joint pain. 

“Our findings support existing studies suggesting induction of immune responses to self-epitopes during acute, severe COVID-19 with evidence of general B cell hyperactivation. Also, the preponderance of AAB positivity among convalescent individuals up to seven months after infection indicates potential initiation or proliferation, and then persistence of self-reactive immunity without severe initial disease,” the study explains. “These results underscore the importance of further investigation of autoimmunity during SARS-CoV-2 infection and its role in the onset and persistence of post-acute sequelae of COVID-19.”

“It’s a signal; it is not definitive,” Dr. Nahid Bhadelia, medical director of the special pathogens unit at Boston Medical Center, who led the study, explained to the New York Times as part of a feature surrounding these latest findings. “We don’t know how prevalent it is, and whether or not it can be linked to long Covid.”

However, Dr. Bhadelia refuses to downplay the potential severity of the condition. “This is a real phenomenon,” she said. “We’re looking at a second pandemic of people with ongoing potential disability who may not be able to return to work, and that’s a huge impact on the health systems.”

Other studies have similarly found a link between autoimmunity and COVID-19, with many health experts concerned about the damage being done.  

“Once these autoantibodies are induced, there is no going back,” Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, told the publication who has also researched the phenomenon. “They will be a permanent part of the person’s immune system.” She also points out that it could impact vaccine response and also “newly acquired infections.” 

As part of her research, she found that severely ill COVID patients experienced a significant increase in autoantibodies targeting the immune system, brain cells, connective tissue and clotting factors. “We really see broadly reactive autoantibody responses in these patients.”

RELATED: 7 Tips You Must Follow to Avoid COVID, Say Doctors

How to Stay Healthy During This Pandemic

So follow Fauci's fundamentals and help end this surge, no matter where you live—wear a face mask, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, get vaccinated when it becomes available to you, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.