Friendly fire: How autoantibodies could drive severe Covid

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Antibodies help ward off disease, but when the body raises antibodies against molecules in our bodies, an array of autoimmune diseases can result. Scientists now think that autoantibodies play a role in some severe cases of Covid-19.


(Amber Dance/ Knowable Magazine) — Some people get very sick with Covid-19; some die. Some have symptoms that last for months.

Yet others have only mild illness, or don’t even notice they’re infected. Last spring, as the pandemic got going, many immunologists began hunting, in patients’ blood samples, for the reason behind this broad variation. Perhaps, some surmised, the sickest patients wouldn’t have enough antibodies.

In fact, they found the opposite: People who were hospitalized with severe Covid-19 had plenty of antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but also a diverse set of antibodies against their own body’s tissues and molecules.

Some of the autoantibodies attack organs or tissues in a pattern that looks an awful lot like autoimmune diseases such as lupus. Others attack the immune system itself, stifling the body’s ability to fight the infection. In some cases, people have autoantibodies before they’re ever infected with SARS-CoV-2; in others, the rogue antibodies arise as the body attempts to fight the virus. (…)

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