Months after recovering from COVID-19, survivors have elevated levels of antibodies that can mistakenly attack their own organs and tissues, even if they had not been severely ill, according to new findings published Thursday (Dec. 30) in the Journal of Translational Medicine.
Among 177 healthcare workers who had recovered from confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections contracted before the availability of COVID-19 vaccines, all had persistent autoantibodies—including ones that can cause chronic inflammation and injury of the joints, skin and nervous system.
“We would not normally expect to see such a diverse array of autoantibodies elevated in these individuals or stay elevated for as long six months after full clinical recovery,” said Susan Cheng of the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute in Los Angeles. Patterns of elevated autoantibodies varied between men and women.
“We don’t yet know how much longer, beyond six months, the antibodies will stay elevated and/or lead to any important clinical symptoms,” Cheng said. “It will be essential to monitor individuals moving forward.”
Her team is investigating whether autoantibody elevations are linked with persistent symptoms in people with long COVID and planning to study autoantibody levels after infections with newer variants of SARS-CoV-2.