Long COVID: Light at the end of the tunnel for people with prolonged symptoms

Article published 6 May 2024

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A study of people with so-called ‘long COVID’ has found that immune system responses had largely returned to normal 2 years after infection.

Back in 2022, a team from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and St Vincent’s Hospital Sydney published research showing that 8 months after an initial COVID-19 infection, research participants displayed different immune system responses compared with people who had never caught the virus. The research found that even a mild initial infection could cause the same prolonged symptoms (what has come to be known as long COVID) as a more severe infection.

The findings were a mixed blessing for those suffering from long COVID. On the one hand, it proved that their symptoms weren’t just in their head. On the other hand, it confirmed that many of them had a long road to recovery.

Better results 2 years on from infection

In a recent follow-up study, researchers have found that after 24 months from their initial infection most participants had seen their immune system responses return to normal. This is great news for people suffering from long COVID and sheds some light on the long-term experience of what has thus far been a condition shrouded in uncertainty.

However, there were still some differences between what testing showed and what people experienced.

The research used both laboratory data from blood samples and self-reported information from patients. While nearly all patients saw improvements in their laboratory data (with the exception of a handful of people who had caught COVID-19 a second time), just over a third of participants who had experienced long COVID continued to have their quality of life impacted by the condition. According to Professor Gail Matthews, the lead investigator of the study, this could be due to symptoms caused by factors other than immune system responses.

Hopefully, further research can continue to add to our knowledge of long COVID.

Importantly, long COVID is not the only risk that comes with catching COVID-19. While hospitalisations and deaths have continued to decrease since a spike at the beginning of summer, the disease can still be dangerous for vulnerable members of the community. 189 people died of COVID-19 in January 2024, the vast majority of whom were over the age of 70.

According to the latest health advice, people aged 75 and over are recommended to get vaccinated every 6 months, while people aged 65-74 are recommended to get a jab at least every 12 months. More information can be found here.

For more information please email our media contact at media@cpsa.org.au

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