These 4 Things Can Increase Your Risk of Long COVID, New Study Says

All of these factors can contribute to lingering COVID symptoms.

When infected with COVID, some people experience symptoms that stay with them for a long time—like loss of smell or a persistent cough—while others experience no symptoms at all. Even just among those who are symptomatic, experts have struggled to figure out why the virus might produce lingering issues in some people while others bounce right back after a few days. But a new study could provide some much-needed insight: A team of researchers recently reported they had found four factors that are identifiable early on in a person's infection that appear to correlate with an increased risk of long COVID.

For the study, which was published Jan. 24 in the Cell journal, researchers followed and analyzed more than 200 patients for two to three months after their initial COVID diagnosis. According to the scientists, there was an association with four different factors and lingering symptoms, no matter if the initial infection presented mildly or severely. Read on to find out what things could mean your COVID case is likely to affect you for longer than a week or so.

RELATED: You Could First Develop These 2 COVID Symptoms a Year Later, New Study Says.

Type 2 diabetes.

diabetes patient woman sit on couch pinch finger measure blood sugar level at home

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has long reported that type 2 diabetes is known to increase one's risk of getting infected with severe COVID, but it might do more than that. According to the study, there were "significant correlations" between this form of diabetes and patients who experienced long COVID. But the researchers also noted that in studies involving larger numbers of patients, diabetes might turn out to be just one of several medical conditions that can increase the risk of long COVID—much like other underlying issues that also raise the risk of severe illness.

The reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus.

Family doctor examining throat of a small boy while visiting him at home during coronavirus pandemic.

The Epstein-Barr virus is one of the most common human viruses that infects most people at some point in their lives, usually when they're younger, according to the CDC. And according to the study, some long COVID patients appear to have had their Epstein-Barr virus reactivated by their COVID infection.

Avindra Nath, MD, the chief of the section on infections of the nervous system at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke who was not involved in the study, told The New York Times that this wasn't necessarily an unusual finding, as other diseases have reawakened this virus and the reactivation of Epstein-Barr has been linked to several conditions that resemble long COVID problems, like chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple sclerosis.

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The level of coronavirus RNA in the blood.

A lab technician putting a blood sample onto a microscope slide

The level of coronavirus RNA in the blood early on in a patient's infection is a key indicator of viral load. According to the study, high viral loads were found to be associated with the development of long COVID. Due to this, some researchers say it might be beneficial to give people antiviral medication soon after diagnosis to help prevent lingering symptoms.

"The quicker one can eliminate the virus, the less likelihood of developing persistent virus or autoimmunity, which may drive long COVID," Akiko Iwasaki, PhD, an immunologist at Yale, who was not involved in the research, explained to The New York Times.

The presence of certain autoantibodies.

petri dish with e. coli bacteria

The most influential factor appears to be the presence of certain autoantibodies that mistakenly attack tissues in the body, Jim Heath, PhD, the principal investigator of the study and president of the Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit biomedical research organization in Seattle, told The New York Times. According to the study, these autoantibodies were present in two-thirds of the long COVID cases identified.

Another study recently conducted by Cedars-Sinai and published in the Journal of Translational Medicine on Dec. 30 also found that specific autoantibodies appear in the bodies of long COVID sufferers, months after they have "fully recovered" from the virus.

"We found signals of autoantibody activity that are usually linked to chronic inflammation and injury involving specific organ systems and tissues such as the joints, skin and nervous system," Susan Cheng, MD, co-senior author of this study and the director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging in the Department of Cardiology at the Smidt Heart Institute, said in a statement.

RELATED: Dr. Fauci Just Issued This Major Warning About Long COVID.

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