Blood test for long Covid could be available within 18 months after antibody discovery

Researchers hope the discovery could lead to a simple blood test for the condition within six to 18 months

Scientists say they have detected irregularities in the blood of long Covid patients that could one day pave the way for a test for the condition.

Researchers from Imperial College London found a pattern of rogue antibodies in the blood of a small number of people with long Covid.

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A researcher works on a vaccine against COVID-19 (Photo by THIBAULT SAVARY/AFP via Getty Images)
A researcher works on a vaccine against COVID-19 (Photo by THIBAULT SAVARY/AFP via Getty Images)

At a glance: 5 key points

- Scientists from Imperial College London found a pattern of rogue antibodies in the blood of a small number of people with long Covid. Researchers hope the discovery could lead to a simple blood test for the condition within six to 18 months.

- Long Covid is not yet fully understood and there are currently no tests to diagnose it. The symptoms currently range from fatigue, breathlessness, headaches and muscle pain which last long after the initial infection.

- Prof Danny Altmann, who is leading the research team at Imperial College London, said he believes the work will lead to a test which could be done in a doctor's surgery.

- In the pilot study, researchers compared the blood of dozens of people and found what are called autoantibodies that were not present in people who recovered quickly, or those who have not had Covid-19. Normally, human immune systems create antibodies to fight disease. However, sometimes the body turns on itself - creating the autoantibodies that attack healthy cells.

- Prof Altmann believes these autoantibodies may be one of the things causing long Covid symptoms. He has also warned that the findings cannot yet be described as a breakthrough, but said they were “a very exciting advancement”.

What’s been said

Dr Elaine Maxwell, from the National Institute of Health Research, said the early findings were "exciting".

She said there could be "a number of different things happening after a Covid-19 infection" and an autoimmune response "has been one of the suspected mechanisms".

Prof Danny Altmann, who is leading the research team at Imperial College London, aid he was concerned the UK government's plans to "live with" Covid-19 could be stoking the next wave of cases of the condition.

He said: "If we're heading into a phase of 100,000 cases per day, and, we're saying that 10-20% of all infections can result in long Covid, I can see no certainty that we're not brewing those long Covid cases despite having a vaccinated population,.”