Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients sometimes experience long-term symptoms following resolution of acute disease, including fatigue, brain fog, and rashes. Collectively these have become known as long COVID. Our aim was to first determine long COVID prevalence in 185 randomly surveyed COVID-19 patients and, subsequently, to determine if there was an association between occurrence of long COVID symptoms and reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) in 68 COVID-19 patients recruited from those surveyed. We found the prevalence of long COVID symptoms to be 30.3% (56/185), which included 4 initially asymptomatic COVID-19 patients who later developed long COVID symptoms. Next, we found that 66.7% (20/30) of long COVID subjects versus 10% (2/20) of control subjects in our primary study group were positive for EBV reactivation based on positive titers for EBV early antigen-diffuse (EA-D) IgG or EBV viral capsid antigen (VCA) IgM. The difference was significant (p < 0.001, Fisher's exact test). A similar ratio was observed in a secondary group of 18 subjects 21-90 days after testing positive for COVID-19, indicating reactivation may occur soon after or concurrently with COVID-19 infection. These findings suggest that many long COVID symptoms may not be a direct result of the SARS-CoV-2 virus but may be the result of COVID-19 inflammation-induced EBV reactivation.
Keywords: COVID-19; EBV; Epstein–Barr virus; Epstein–Barr virus reactivation; PACS; SARS-CoV-2; chronic COVID syndrome; coronavirus; long COVID; post-acute COVID-19 syndrome.