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OBJECTIVE AND DESIGN: 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.

SUBJECTS AND METHODS: 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.

RESULTS: 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.

CONCLUSIONS: 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)947-953
Number of pages7
JournalInflammation Research
Issue number5
Early online date30 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - May 2023


  • Adult
  • Humans
  • Post-Acute COVID-19 Syndrome
  • COVID-19
  • Interleukin-6
  • Fatigue Syndrome, Chronic/epidemiology
  • Pandemics
  • RNA, Viral
  • SARS-CoV-2


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