Doctors find ‘antibody signature’ predicting who is at risk from long Covid

Following a coronavirus infection, the body’s immune system ramps up the production of certain antibodies (Credits: Getty Images)

Experts based in Zurich have developed a way to tell which patients are most vulnerable to long Covid.

The scientists analysed blood samples from those who had suffered the disease’s effects for months. They found these people had lower levels of certain antibodies than those who recovered quickly.

When this ‘antibody signature’ was merged with other information, such as the patient’s age, their Covid symptoms and whether or not they suffered from asthma, a pattern developed.

The scientists say that based on this, they are able to determine which patients have a low, medium or high risk of suffering from long Covid.

‘Overall, we think that our findings and identification of an immunoglobulin signature will help early identification of patients that are at increased risk of developing long Covid, which in turn will facilitate research, understanding and ultimately targeted treatments for long Covid,’ Onur Boyman, a professor of immunology who led the research, told the Guardian.

When someone contracts Covid, the immune response includes production of immunoglobulin M (IgM), IgA, and IgG antibodies. These are glycoprotein molecules produced by white blood cells.

The IgM antibodies flare up quickly to deal with the immediate infection while the IgG antibodies provide the long-term protection.

The symptoms can include fever, fatigue, myalgia, weakness, headache and a change in smell or taste.

The scientists tested 175 Covid positive people against a 40-person healthy control group. They followed 134 of the Covid patients for up to a year after their infection.

Sure enough, those that suffered most from long Covid had lower levels of IgM and IgG.

Long Covid
Some people can feel the effects of Covid months after their initial infection (Credits: Getty Images)

The drawback to the test is that it can’t tell if someone is likely to catch long Covid before they are infected as it relies on details of the symptoms.

But over time it could help to increase our understanding of the disease. For example, those with lower levels of IgM and IgA as well as asthma, can assume they will ber at an increased risk of developing long Covid.

‘This is expected to improve care for long Covid patients as well as motivate high-risk groups, such as asthmatic patients, to get vaccinated and thus prevent long Covid,’ said Dr Carlo Cervia, the first author on the study, which has been published in Nature.

The Department of Health told that it is committed to supporting Long Covid sufferers and ‘ensuring services are available to everyone who needs them’.

‘We’ve opened 90 Long Covid assessment centres for people across England, with specialist services for children and young people’, a spokesperson said.  

‘We are also providing more than £50 million for research to better understand the long term effects of the condition and develop the right treatments for patients.’

MORE : Covid will keep infecting people and prompting vaccination into the next century, expert warns

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