Long Covid breakthrough from South African scientists

South African researchers from the University of Stellenbosch may have determined the cause behind long Covid.

Physiological sciences professor Etheresia Pretorius and her team found that an excess of inflammatory molecules inside microscopic blood clots could cause some long Covid symptoms.

The team published their research in the journal Bioscience Reports.

According to Pretorius, Covid-19 impacts the circulation system of patients in addition to the adverse effects it has on the respiratory system.

“Acute Covid-19 is not only a lung disease but actually significantly affects the blood flow and blood clotting systems,” she told the Sunday Times.

“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,” she said.

“With healthy physiology, clots may form — for instance, when you cut yourself. However, the body breaks down the clots efficiently by a process called fibrinolysis.”

Pretorius explained that in patients experiencing long Covid, these microclots become persistent and are resistant to the body’s fibrinolytic processes.

“We found high levels of various inflammatory molecules trapped in the persistent microclots,” she added.

As a result of these microclots, the body can no longer sustain normal bodily function as cells do not receive enough oxygen — a condition known as cellular hypoxia.

Etheresia Pretorius, Professor of the Department of Physiological Sciences at the University of Stellenbosch. Image: Stellenbosch University

The lingering after-effects of Covid-19 were dubbed “Long Covid” by the World Health Organisation in 2021, BusinessTech reported.

Symptoms of long Covid include anxiety or depression, fatigue and brain fog, muscle weakness, shortness of breath,  and difficulty sleeping.

These patients may also have an elevated risk of stroke and heart attacks.

According to Pretorius, Widespread hypoxia could be to blame for these symptoms.

Noluthando Nematswerani, head of Discovery Health’s centre for clinical excellence, explained that there is still much more to learn about long Covid.

“Long Covid affects every aspect of life. It affects one’s mental health and one’s ability to focus and work, and could have economic consequences too,” she said.

“This is why it’s so important that we acknowledge the prevalence and growing awareness around long Covid.”

Pretorius has emphasised the need for urgent investment into research and clinical trials “to better understand and further confirm the link between abnormal blood clotting, hypoxia and vascular dysfunction in patients with long Covid”.

Now read: Deaths of 280,000 people may have bought South Africa freedom from Covid-19

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Long Covid breakthrough from South African scientists