13 August 2020
The British Society for Immunology has published a new expert briefing note which rapidly reviews current research on the long-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19 and sets out the key recommendations for future research.
This briefing note has been produced by our Immunology and COVID-19 taskforce, an expert advisory group that aims to identify the immunology research priorities to guide future studies and treatments and inform public health measures to control the Coronavirus spread.
Professor Arne Akbar FMedSci, Chair of the advisory group and President of the British Society for Immunology, said:
“Immunology research is at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19. Our expert advisory group was formed to identify key research priorities to help us understand how our immune system responds to SARS-CoV-2 so our efforts to tackle the disease can have the highest benefits for public health.
“In the past few months, it has become apparent that SARS-CoV-2 infection has effects far beyond our respiratory health, including on our cardiovascular and renal systems. Furthermore, it appears to affect our health long after recovery from COVID-19 with some patients continuing to report symptoms such as fatigue and shortness of breath for months after the initial infection. These lasting disease consequences must be tracked and studied to avoid a bigger burden on the NHS.”
This review lays out what we do and don’t currently know about the long-term health effects of COVID-19. It looks into the underlying mechanisms of the immune system that contribute to chronic symptoms after recovery from COVID-19, highlighting the diverse range of effects on our health and how they vary from person to person.
The briefing note outlines three recommendations to help understand what SARS-CoV-2 and our immune response to it does to our health over the long term in a range of individuals, from asymptomatic to severe cases. A better understanding of the immunological health effects after COVID-19 infection is crucial to prevent placing an additional burden on the NHS in the future.
- To urgently establish long-term cohort studies and research programmes to track durability of the immune response and long-term disease consequences in COVID-19 patients.
- To undertake a multidisciplinary approach with input from various fields, including immunology and respiratory medicine, to understand the pathologies of the diverse chronic symptoms from a range of patients recovered from COVID-19, from asymptomatic to severe infection.
- To focus on understanding the underlying biological mechanisms that drive the longer-term immunological health consequences of COVID-19 which will aid to establish new therapeutic options and avoid a new and substantial care-burden on the NHS
Professor Deborah Dunn-Walters, member of the advisory group, Trustee of the British Society for Immunology and Professor of Immunology, School of Biosciences and Medicine, Director of Research, University of Surrey, said:
“COVID-19 has already had a devastating effect on global health, and the ongoing symptoms that a significant proportion of patients are experiencing long after infection is a cause for concern as it could have a huge impact for months and years to come.
“The recommendations proposed in this briefing note are a starting point to understand the diverse long-term immune-related consequences of COVID-19. Monitoring these chronic symptoms and understanding the mechanisms of the immune response contributing to them will be crucial to establish new therapeutic options and prevent further strain on our healthcare system.”
Our huge thanks to all members of our Immunology and COVID-19 taskforce who gave their time to contribute to this work. To find out more about other BSI activities on coronavirus, please visit our 'Connecting on Coronavirus' website section.