Possible progress on identifying the causes of “Long Covid”

A scientist in South Africa, Resia Pretorius, believes that she and her colleagues may have found at least one causal factor for “Long Covid.” The term is used to describe those with effects that extend beyond four weeks time, according to the most current information by the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of long Covid may vary from person to person, but the primary symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, muscle or joint pain, shortness of breath, sleep difficulties, and depression or anxiety. It’s been cause for real concern as the pandemic has unfolded, and until now, it’s seemed like we had no leads on what mechanism was actually causing it.

“A recent study in my lab revealed that there is significant microclot formation in the blood of both acute COVID-19 and long COVID patients,” Resia Pretorius, head of the science department at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, wrote Wednesday in an op-ed.

Pretorius writes that healthy bodies are typically able to efficiently break down blood clots through a process called fibrinolysis. But, when looking at blood from long COVID-19 patients, “persistent microclots are resistant to the body’s own fibrinolytic processes.”

Pretorius’ team in an analysis over the summer found high levels of inflammatory molecules “trapped” in the persistent microclots observed in long COVID-19 patients, which may be preventing the breakdown of clots. Because of that, cells in the body’s tissues may not be getting enough oxygen to sustain regular bodily functions, a condition known as cellular hypoxia.

“Widespread hypoxia may be central to the numerous reported debilitating symptoms” of long COVID-19, Pretorius writes.

Given all the misinformation surrounding the current pandemic, I think it’s worth mentioning that the idea of a disease having lasting effects even after it’s “cured” is nowhere close to new. The example that immediately sprang to my mind was Ebola, and specifically this interview from last year, which covers, among other important topics, how the focus is too often on ending the epidemic to the exclusion of all else. This means that far less attention is paid to the after-effects of the disease.  Going forward, I think it’s worth remembering that sometimes curing the infection is just the first step.

That said, it should be fairly clear that this is extremely hopeful news. The effects of Long Covid have made it the newest disease to be included under the ADA and many disability activists have voiced concerns that this could be a “great disabling” of our generation. If this research proves to be fruitful, it is possible that not only could long Covid be either eliminated or greatly diminished, but that other chronic diseases with similar effects may also be helped by this treatment.

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  1. another stewart says

    Chickenpox can have long-term effects – shingles.

    Measles can have long-term effects – subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE).

    Polio can have long-term effects – in addition to persistent partial paralysis, there’s post-polio syndrome.

    There has been speculation that CFS/ME is a long-term effect of one or more of the endemic human coronaviruses – but I haven’t heard of anyone following this up.

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