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Wash U Study Reveals People With Mild COVID-19 Cases May Have Lasting Antibody Protection

The new coronavirus has been detected in dozens of countries, including the United States. It gets its name from its protruding spikes, which resemble a crown.
Nat Thomas
St. Louis Public Radio

Blood and bone marrow samples from people who contracted mild cases of COVID-19 show cells continue to produce antibodies months after infection. Washington University School of Medicine researchers say their findings suggest the antibodies could offer long-lasting immunity.

The researchers set out to track the body’s immune response to COVID-19. They originally collected blood samples from volunteers who contracted the coronavirus. They saw a familiar case of initial antibodies waning a few months after recovery, but mainstream media incorrectly interpreted that to mean immunity would be short-lived.

Months later, the same volunteers donated bone marrow. The samples revealed that cells still secrete antibodies (although at lower levels) and that they continue to offer protection against the virus.

Ali Ellebedy is the senior author of the study, which was published in the journal Nature earlier this week. On Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, he joined host Sarah Fenske to explain the findings.

Wash U Study Reveals People With Mild COVID-19 Cases May Have Lasting Antibody Protection
Ali Ellebedy of Washington University's School of Medicine upends the conventional wisdom about antibodies from COVID-19 infections.

Ellebedy is an associate professor of pathology & immunology, of medicine and of molecular microbiology at Washington University School of Medicine. He said the antibodies developed after infection should not be a substitute for a vaccination, especially as variations of coronavirus strains emerge.

“You could be protected from severe disease if you have these low levels of antibodies. And that's fine if you're talking about yourself, but you could also get a mild infection but transmit the virus to others around you who don't have this level of protection and could be in a status that could actually lead them to have a severe infection,” he said.

He added that those who contracted the coronavirus and built an immune response from it have an advantage: “It's even better for you if you actually get the vaccine because infection gives you beautiful memory cells that are ready to take off once they get the vaccination. So you actually get extra insurance, you get a higher level of antibodies.”

The study did not tackle whether those with a more severe infection would experience the same level of protection as those with mild cases.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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