Heart research headquarters laboratory

Long COVID and CFS

WA researchers shedding light on the link between long COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome

3 January 2023

The Institute’s Professor Livia Hool is playing a pivotal role in a collaborative study that is transforming our understanding of the causes of long COVID and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Professor Livia Hool in the Institute's WA laboratory

Scientists have honed in on the mechanics of how the body’s immunity becomes compromised and discovered a striking similarity between the two conditions.

The study, which is being led by Griffith University’s National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases, is focused on how a calcium channel fails to fire up properly when fighting off COVID-19 and chronic fatigue syndrome. It’s believed this could be why many of the symptoms of both CFS and long COVID are so similar – including extreme tiredness, muscle ache, and brain fog.

When working properly the calcium channel plays a crucial role in helping kill off virus cells but the Queensland researchers with Professor Hool, who heads the Institute’s Western Australia hub, have been able to demonstrate the channel does not work correctly by employing electrophysiology techniques.

Professor Hool, Wesfarmers, UWA-Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute Chair in Cardiovascular Research, says: “This channel is crucial in fighting off viruses and plays a central role in our immune system. It carries ions such as calcium both into the cells and when that fails to work correctly, by slowing down or even stopping completely, it can affect the body’s key defense mechanisms.

“We were approached by our collaborators because our laboratory is one of only a handful in Australia that can actually reveal what is happening to that channel when these viruses are at work.”

The findings are especially important because the study is also investigating what happens to the body when sufferers are given the drug naltrexone.

“Following treatment with naltrexone the calcium currents are restored and about 40-50% of people with chronic fatigue start to feel better within three to six months,” adds Professor Hool.

“Whilst this is a big step forward, it is still unknown why this channel fails to work correctly in the first place and why the immune system does not respond as it normally should. We need to understand why the body reacts in this way to these viruses so we can prevent this from happening in the first place.”

Around 250,000 people suffer from CFS in Australia, with long COVID numbers estimated to affect around 5% of people who have had COVID 19. Those who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 have up to a 30% chance of developing long COVID.

-- ENDS --

For all media enquiries and interview requests, please contact:

Julia Timms
Head, Media & Communications
0457 517 355

Teagan Er in the laboratory at Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in WA

Meet one of the scientists behind the research - Star Scientist of the Month, Teagan Er

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years