Simple blood test could signal long Covid and revolutionise treatment

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A simple blood test for long Covid that can identify individuals with the debilitating syndrome is nearing, according to researchers.

Long Covid is an umbrella term for symptoms of the virus lasting more than 12 weeks, ranging from fatigue, headaches and breathlessness to fever and tummy pain.

Study co-leader Dr Mark Wills, of Cambridge University, said: “We need a reliable and objective way of saying whether someone has had Covid-19.

“Antibodies are one sign we look for. But not everyone makes a very strong response and this can wane over time and become undetectable.”

The discovery could revolutionise treatment by complementing existing antibody tests – and identifying vulnerable individuals.

It builds on a pilot study of 85 patients from the Long Covid Clinic at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Blood samples were collected at the time of diagnosis and at follow-up intervals over several months.

Analyses identified a molecule known as a cytokine produced by T cells in response to infection. An estimated 400,000 people in the UK have been hit for more than a year. Up to a fifth of coronavirus survivors will have lingering effects.



The Government has announced funding to research long Covid
Research into Long Covid is continuing

A patient with asymptomatic or mild disease may not have taken a PCR test – the gold standard for diagnosing Covid.

Even antibody tests – which look for immune cells produced in response to infection – are estimated to miss almost one-in-three cases.

Scientists now plan to track sufferers for up to 18 months post-infection.

Study co-leader Dr Nyarie Sithole, also from the Department of Medicine at Cambridge, said: “Because we currently have no reliable way of diagnosing long Covid, the uncertainty can cause added stress to people who are experiencing potential symptoms.

“If we can say to them ‘yes, you have a biomarker and so you have long Covid’, we believe this will help allay some of their fears and anxieties.”

Dr Sithole added: “There’s anecdotal evidence patients see an improvement in symptoms of long Covid once they have been vaccinated – something we have seen in a small number of patients in our clinic.

“Our study will allow us to see how this biomarker changes over a longer period of time in response to vaccination.”

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