Freidin MB, Cheetham N, Duncan EL, Steves CJ, Doores KJ, Malim MH, Rossi N, Lord JM, Franks PW, Borsini A, Granville Smith I, Falchi M, Pariante C, Williams FMK
Inflamm Res - (-) 1-7 [2023-03-30; online 2023-03-30]
Fatigue is a prominent symptom in the general population and may follow viral infection, including SARS-CoV2 infection which causes COVID-19. Chronic fatigue lasting more than three months is the major symptom of the post-COVID syndrome (known colloquially as long-COVID). The mechanisms underlying long-COVID fatigue are unknown. We hypothesized that the development of long-COVID chronic fatigue is driven by the pro-inflammatory immune status of an individual prior to COVID-19. We analyzed pre-pandemic plasma levels of IL-6, which plays a key role in persistent fatigue, in N = 1274 community dwelling adults from TwinsUK. Subsequent COVID-19-positive and -negative participants were categorized based on SARS-CoV-2 antigen and antibody testing. Chronic fatigue was assessed using the Chalder Fatigue Scale. COVID-19-positive participants exhibited mild disease. Chronic fatigue was a prevalent symptom among this population and significantly higher in positive vs. negative participants (17% vs 11%, respectively; p = 0.001). The qualitative nature of chronic fatigue as determined by individual questionnaire responses was similar in positive and negative participants. Pre-pandemic plasma IL-6 levels were positively associated with chronic fatigue in negative, but not positive individuals. Raised BMI was associated with chronic fatigue in positive participants. Pre-existing increased IL-6 levels may contribute to chronic fatigue symptoms, but there was no increased risk in individuals with mild COVID-19 compared with uninfected individuals. Elevated BMI also increased the risk of chronic fatigue in mild COVID-19, consistent with previous reports.