It is now 2024, several years after the first global shutdown triggered by the spread of the deadly virus we’ve come to know as SARS-CoV-2. While economies have mostly recovered from that pandemic, new variants of COVID-19 regularly emerge, and many folks are still experiencing the debilitating symptoms of long COVID. This condition is characterized by mental and physical fatigue that can, in cohort with other symptoms, interfere with daily life. While it is unclear exactly how long COVID develops, scientists have discovered that persistent SARS-CoV-2 infection could be linked to the development of long COVID, as well as contribute to the evolution of novel SARS-CoV-2 variants.

A persistent COVID infection is defined as an infection with a high amount of virus that lasts longer than 26 days. Using high-quality SARS-CoV-2 data collected from households in the UK, the researchers determined that more severe viral mutations occurred in samples with persistent COVID. In other words, the mutants that developed during a persistent COVID infection seemed better at spreading and surviving than mutants that developed during a normal COVID infection. This could be one way novel COVID variants develop. Researchers also found that individuals with persistent COVID infection reported long COVID symptoms more often than those who did not. This suggests that while long COVID can develop without a persistent COVID infection, a persistent infection may increase the chances of developing long COVID.

There is still much we do not know about long COVID, persistent COVID infections, and COVID viral evolution. Even now, new COVID variants emerge and long-COVID symptoms continue to trouble millions. While more research needs to be done to uncover the exact mechanism through which long COVID and viral evolution occur, persistent COVID infections could be playing an important role in these processes. With a few more insights, we could develop treatments that would provide relief for those still dealing with the aftermath of a COVID infection, as well as those who may develop one in the future.

This study was led by researchers at the Big Data Institute, Department of Biology, and Pandemic Science Institute at the University of Oxford, including corresponding authors Mahan Ghafari and Katrina Lythgoe.

Managing Correspondent: Jenny Kim

Press Article: Persistent COVID-19 could drive virus evolution, new study suggests (Medical News)

Original Journal Article: Prevalence of persistent SARS-CoV-2 in a large community surveillance study (Nature)

Image Credit: Pexels/Nothing Ahead

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