COVID-19 Reactivates Dormant Viruses in ME/CFS Patients
Ongoing research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus has revealed striking similarities between long COVID and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome(ME/CFS). Not only do these two conditions present similar symptoms, but they are now thought to have a similar origin: the reactivation of dormant viruses in the body.
A recent study at Linköping University in Sweden revealed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can reactivate latent viruses that remain in the body following a previous infection. As you may imagine, this can play a key role in the development of long COVID.
Similarities Between ME/CFS & Long COVID
Researchers have identified several shared characteristics between long COVID patients (commonly known as “long-haulers”) and individuals with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Given that an estimated 1 in 5 adults develops long COVID following a COVID-19 infection, many professionals in the medical and scientific communities are taking advantage of the opportunity to learn more about the many chronic illnesses, including ME/CFS, that are still misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and underdiagnosed today.
ME/CFS and long COVID can present shared symptoms, including:
- Post-exertional malaise (PEM)
- Abnormal smell and taste
- Impaired lung capacity
- Brain fog
- Chronic fatigue
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Recurrent headaches
- Orthostatic intolerance
- Mast cell activation
The Mystery Behind Post-Viral Conditions
Our knowledge of ME/CFS and other post-viral conditions was substantially limited until very recently. While the exact cause of ME/CFS is still unclear, the COVID-19 pandemic renewed attention on one leading theory in particular: the reactivation of dormant viruses in the body. After an infection, latent viruses can remain in affected individuals for years or even decades before they are eventually reactivated by a new virus, such as SARS-CoV-2.
The study in Sweden revealed that certain dormant viruses, such as Epstein-Barr (EBV) and herpes, can proliferate in the body when the immune system is impaired. Participants entailed a mix of ME/CFS patients and healthy individuals, all of whom had contracted COVID-19 in the past.
Detectable antibodies in participants’ saliva revealed that numerous latent viruses had been reactivated, including EBV. While both ME/CFS patients presented these antibodies, the reactivation was significantly stronger in individuals with ME/CFS.
The “Domino Effect” of Latent Virus Reactivation
The reactivation of dormant viruses in the body not only shines more light on post-viral conditions like ME/CFS, but raises some concerns regarding the “chain reaction” of negative effects on an individual’s health.
Researchers describe the process as a “domino effect”: 1) the body is infected with a new virus; 2) the infection reactivates latent viruses in the body; and lastly, 3) the body’s elevated immune response sets off a chain reaction of undesirable responses.
This negative response chain can take various forms, including the immune system turning against itself by attacking other parts of the body (such as nerve tissue). Moreover, studies show that the mitochondria in cells are similarly impacted by this negative chain of events, resulting in the suppression of energy metabolism in ME/CFS patients.
Experts are hopeful that continued research and additional studies can offer more insight into the immune response in individuals suffering from ME/CFS, long COVID, and other post-viral conditions.
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