Mind over matter? ‘Long COVID’ study sparks controversy

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A large-scale French study suggesting that the symptoms of the so-called prolonged COVID may be due to psychological factors more than infection with the virus, has sparked controversy among patients and scientists.

The report, which appeared earlier this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, focused on nearly 27,000 participants across France who had undergone antibody tests to detect COVID-19 infection.

After people received antibody test results, researchers asked them if they thought they had contracted COVID-19 and reported symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath or poor attention.

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The vast majority of respondents – more than 25,000 people – have tested negative for COVID-19 antibodies and believe they have never become ill.

Of the approximately 1,000 people who have tested positive for the virus, about 450 are believed to have contracted the virus.

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Finally, about 460 people who received negative antibody tests said they nonetheless believed they had COVID-19.

Researchers found that people who thought they had COVID-19, whether or not they tested positive, were more likely to report long-term symptoms.

Meanwhile, a positive antibody test was consistently associated only with a long-term symptom: loss of smell.

They concluded that persistent physical symptoms “may be more related to a belief in SARS-CoV-2 infection than to a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 infection.”

The study, which was coordinated by Cedric Lemogen, chief of psychiatry at the Hôtel-Dieu Hospital in Paris, indicated that the findings were important in order to allow research into other causes of symptoms.

She added, “Medical evaluation of these patients may be required to prevent symptoms due to another disease wrongly attributed to (COVID) long-term.”

But for patients with these symptoms, the analysis looks like an attempt to discredit her.

After writing the study in the French daily Le Monde, patient support group ApresJ20 claimed that it may lead to prolonged stigmatization of people with COVID-19.

Some researchers questioned the study methods.

Several feedback from experts published via Science Media Center suggest that serology tests for antibodies cannot always reliably measure past COVID-19 infections — with one researcher saying it may be particularly unreliable for people who feel sick months later. injury.

British virologist Jeremy Rossman said: “Some research in hospitalized patients suggests that long-term Covid patients can have weaker antibody responses.”

But the definition of COVID for so long itself is very poor – and that makes research on the topic difficult to frame.

The French study alone explored more than a dozen symptoms including joint pain, sore muscles, fatigue, poor attention, skin problems, hearing impairment, constipation, dizziness, and more.

“The definition of the condition is poor,” Yale’s Perry Wilson said on the Medscape website. “We don’t have any diagnostic tests, and papers like this can be used to say it’s not a real problem.”

Wilson said he knows from personal experience that people who develop even mild COVID-19 illness can have serious symptoms for months afterward.

“We need to recognize that vague symptoms lead to ambiguous diagnoses – and without clearer criteria, we risk labeling a group of people with ‘long COVID’ when that is not what they have at all,” he said.

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