The emergence of the new JN.1 strain has marred the usual merriment that accompanies the holiday season. As the world steps up measures to combat the ‘Pirola’ strain, studies have revealed another rather silent side of COVID-19 infection, one that could haunt us for years.
Although vaccines have undeniably softened the worst blows of COVID-19, the growing evidence casts a worrying shadow. Every infection, even seemingly inconsequential ones, appears to increase the risk of long-term consequences like diabetes, kidney disease, organ failure, and mental health problems – what experts have begun to call “Long COVID.”
But the problem is that we haven’t managed to establish a model yet. Even though 65 million people suffer from organ-destroying long COVID worldwide, the disease’s infection rate varies widely from region to region, and even from study to study. But now we may have finally found a common denominator.
The study shows that the more cycles of reinfection a patient experiences, the more the disease impairs our immune system. Over time, it erases the T cells responsible for helping our bodies remember how to fight the virus. The virus appears to thrive on repetition, exploiting our weakened defenses with each encounter and increasing the risk of long-term damage to organ systems. This is true even for low-risk groups such as vaccinated people, young people or children.
“This dispels the myth that repeated contact with the virus is benign and does not need to be worried,” explains doctor Rambod Rouhbakhhs. “It’s like playing Russian roulette.”
And the problem isn’t limited to just one specific demographic, either. In addition to studies conducted in the United States, a larger Canadian study confirmed the worrying trend: the higher the infections, the more likely shadows will persist in the long term. Additionally, the death of T cells makes it easier for us to get other illnesses, such as severe pneumonia and respiratory syncytial virus infection. After all, “mild” infections may not be as benign as we thought.
The recent Pirola outbreak in India adds another level of complexity. This mutated strain has a strange ability to evade our immune defenses, making previous vaccines and infections less effective. Early indications suggest that the improved XBB.1.5 vaccines may fortunately offer some respite.
These results have been published in several journals, including Insights on Canadian Society and MDPI.
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