Even asymptomatic COVID-19 could lead to long-term damage - study

New research from Cedars-Sinai is the first to report not only the presence of elevated autoantibodies after mild or asymptomatic infection, but their persistence over time.

People queue at Westminster Bridge to receive COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at a walk-in vaccination centre at Saint Thomas' Hospital in London, Britain, December 14, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)
People queue at Westminster Bridge to receive COVID-19 vaccine and booster doses, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, at a walk-in vaccination centre at Saint Thomas' Hospital in London, Britain, December 14, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/TOBY MELVILLE)

Even a mild case of COVID-19 could trigger an immune response that lasts longer than the initial infection and recovery, according to new research carried out by scientists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

The findings were published in the Journal of Translational Medicine, in the first study to report not only the presence of elevated autoantibodies after mild or asymptomatic infection, but also their persistence over time.

When people are infected with a virus or other pathogen, their bodies unleash proteins called antibodies that detect foreign substances and keep them from invading cells. In some cases, however, people produce autoantibodies that can attack the body’s own organs and tissues over time. The findings, which are based on 177 people with confirmed evidence of a previous COVID-19 infection, reveal that people with a prior infection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have a wide variety of autoantibodies up to six months after they have fully recovered.

“These findings help to explain what makes COVID-19 an especially unique disease,” said Justyna Fert-Bober PhD, co-senior author of the study. “These patterns of immune dysregulation could be underlying the different types of persistent symptoms we see in people who go on to develop the condition now referred to as long COVID-19.”

 Israeli soldier line up in a queue at the entrance of a COVID-19 rapid antigen  Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem on January 03, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Israeli soldier line up in a queue at the entrance of a COVID-19 rapid antigen Magen David Adom testing center in Jerusalem on January 03, 2022. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

The researchers noted that they intend to expand the study to look for the types of autoantibodies that may be persistent in people with long-haul COVID-19 symptoms.

It remains unclear whether autoantibodies are similarly made in people with breakthrough infections because the study was conducted before vaccines were rolled out.