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Luke O’Neill explains ‘huge breakthrough’ discovery about long COVID

Extra.ie logo Extra.ie 19/05/2022 Clare McGoldrick

Leading professor of immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Luke O’Neill, has explained a ‘huge breakthrough’ for people who are struggling with long COVID.

Speaking to Pat Kenny from a major conference in Philadelphia, where COVID remains high on the agenda, O’Neill said around half the speakers at the conference were researching long COVID – with one study, in particular, causing much excitement.

Professor O’Neill told the Irish broadcaster on Newstalk: ‘Long COVID remains a big concern and the incidence is quite high – especially in the US because if you’re unvaccinated, you are at a higher risk of long COVID as well.’

Leading professor of immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Luke O’Neill, has said that long COVID may be caused by ‘ghosts’ of the virus lingering in the body. Pic: Getty © Provided by Extra.ie Leading professor of immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Luke O’Neill, has said that long COVID may be caused by ‘ghosts’ of the virus lingering in the body. Pic: Getty

He explained: ‘There has been a breakthrough. A major reason, they think, is because ‘ghosts’ of COVID are lingering in your body, especially in your stomach and your colon and your digestive system.

‘They’ve detected remnants of the virus in your gut basically.

‘It was a massive study and in 46% of people who have long COVID, they can detect these remnants.’

Leading professor of immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Luke O’Neill, has said that long COVID may be caused by ‘ghosts’ of the virus lingering in the body. © Provided by Extra.ie Leading professor of immunology at Trinity College Dublin, Luke O’Neill, has said that long COVID may be caused by ‘ghosts’ of the virus lingering in the body.

Long COVID is when a person struggles with symptoms relating to the virus for over 12 weeks. In some extreme cases, people have been suffering from intense symptoms for two years.

According to the HSE, people with long COVID report experiencing different combinations of symptoms including fatigue, brain fog, dizziness and difficulty breathing. These effects can overlap with multiorgan complications, or with effects of treatment or hospitalization. 

Professor O’Neill said other studies have also found ‘reservoirs’ of COVID in other parts of the body.

Long COVID is when a person struggles with symptoms relating to the virus for over 12 weeks. Pic: Shutterstock © Provided by Extra.ie Long COVID is when a person struggles with symptoms relating to the virus for over 12 weeks. Pic: Shutterstock

‘It looks as if these remnants may be a major cause of long COVID symptoms,’ he said.

‘That is an advance because if you can clear those remnants out, say with an anti-viral drug, for instance, you may well have a way to stop long COVID as well.

‘So, it was really seen as a huge breakthrough here at the conference. There’s a lot of excitement around that. It is the first big breakthrough in many ways in our understanding of long COVID.’

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