In-Depth: Researchers find similarities between long COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome

Advocates call for more research and funding
Posted at 6:04 AM, Oct 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 17:37:13-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - New research has found startling similarities between symptoms of long COVID and myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS).

A pair of studies published in late August linked the two diseases. That's led to renewed calls for more research and funding of joint investigations.

"When we began to see SARS-CoV2 come onto the scene, we knew what would happen from previous infectious outbreaks, and we were already very concerned," says Jaime Seltzer, the Director of MEAction, an ME/CFS advocacy group.

According to the CDC, as many as 2.5 million Americans have ME/CFS. Its three main symptoms are post-exertional malaise, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction.

One study published by the Mayo Clinic found nearly half of long COVID patients have the same symptoms and meet the criteria for an ME/CFS diagnosis.

The other study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found similar biological markers present in both long COVID patients and people with ME/CFS.

It identified four "biological abnormalities" in ME/CFS patients and people with acute long COVID: redox imbalance, systemic inflammation and neuroinflammation, an impaired ability to generate adenosine triphosphate, and a general hypometabolic state.

In response to these studies, advocates for long COVID and ME/CFS patients sent letters to the National Institutes of Health asking them to prioritize research for both conditions.

"We're ignoring the fact that this is a mass-disabling event," says Seltzer. "We're going to have people who are disabled for the rest of their lives. And the idea that this is a simple, fixable, easy condition, or that people just feel a little tired, is absolutely naive."

Currently, there are no FDA-approved treatments for ME/CFS or long COVID. Seltzer says most people use a combination of over-the-counter medicine and pacing to control symptoms.

MEAction describes pacing as a management tool "to pace your activities to stay within your energy envelope and avoid crashing as much as possible."

But Seltzer is hopeful a new, combined approach to the two diseases can lead to answers.