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Study: Covid-19 survivors have antibodies that attack the body, not virus

  • Published at 09:16 am November 1st, 2020
Coronavirus-Antibody
AFP

Experts have said these findings are not unexpected, since other viral illnesses also trigger 'autoantibodies'

Recent research has found that certain Covid-19 survivors show alarming signs that their immune system has turned on the body, suggestive of potentially crippling diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

In the new study, the researchers looked at 52 patients identified as having either serious or critical Covid-19 within the Emory health care system in Atlanta, but who had no history of autoimmune disorders, reports New York Times.

The findings were released on the MedRxiv preprint server on Friday and have not been published in a scientific journal yet. 

The research indicates, at some stage, the body's defensive mechanism switched to targeting itself rather than the virus in these patients. Also, the patients are developing "autoantibodies" molecules that attack genetic material from human cells, rather than the virus.

The results have significant treatment implications as doctors may classify patients that may benefit from treatments used for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis by using existing procedures that can detect autoantibodies.

“It’s possible that you could hit the appropriate patients harder with some of these more aggressive drugs and expect better outcomes,” said Matthew Woodruff, an immunologist at Emory University in Atlanta and lead author of the work.

It has been evident for months that the coronavirus in some individuals will cause the immune system to run amok, potentially causing more harm to the body than the virus itself.

In nearly half of the patients, they found autoantibodies that recognise DNA. 

Antibodies against a protein called rheumatoid factor and others that assist in blood clotting were also identified. More than 70% had autoantibodies against one of the targets tested, among the top half of the most critically ill patients according to Dr Woodruff. 

Ann Marshak-Rothstein, an immunologist and lupus specialist at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, noted that some of the autoantibodies the researchers found are linked with blood flow issues.

Rothstein further said if autoantibodies turn out to be long-lasting, they can lead to chronic, even lifelong, problems for survivors of Covid-19.

The immune response to the coronavirus is being monitored closely by Dr Marshak-Rothstein, Dr Iwasaki and hundreds of other teams. It might soon become apparent if antibodies were detected merely when the researchers went to look for them, or whether they represent a more lasting modification in the immune system.

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