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Living with Fibromyalgia Has an Advantage?!

COVID-19 and Cytokines
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According to a newly published study in the Journal of Advances in Medicine and Medical Research, there’s finally an advantage to living with fibromyalgia. Researchers from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago and the biomedical firm EpicGenetics have confirmed fibromyalgia patients are much less likely to die from COVID-19 or develop severe complications from it than the general public.

During a screening, only 82 out of 2,195 fibromyalgia patients tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies. And only one of those 82 individuals was hospitalized and placed on a ventilator for severe COVID-19 infection.

“According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a total of 63,152 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 associated hospitalizations per day were reported between March 1, 2020 and October 17, 2020,” reads the study. “The overall cumulative hospitalization rate was 193.7 per 100,000 population. Using those numbers, we would have expected far more than just one person in our cohort to have required a hospitalization but that did not transpire.”

Even more shocking, there were no COVID-19 deaths among the cohort of fibromyalgia patients.

“I was concerned patients with fibromyalgia would be more susceptible to COVID-19 because their immune systems are not as potent in certain aspects as patients [without fibromyalgia],” says Dr. Bruce Gillis, CEO of EpicGenetics, the company that released the FM/a fibromyalgia blood test in 2012. “It was very surprising that we found out the opposite. ”

It turns out fibromyalgia patients’ immune systems are deficient in two particular cytokines, IL-6 and IL-8, and those two cytokines just happen to be the same ones that rage out of control during severe COVID-19 infections.

A so-called “cytokine storm” of IL-6, IL-8 and others has been identified as the culprit in severe COVID-19 infections.

COVID-19 antibody rates also appear to be lower in fibromyalgia patients than the general U.S. population (3.7% vs. 5%).

“The reason people are likely to have a fatality [from COVID-19] is because their immune system overreacts and overproduces critical cytokine and chemokine proteins, and the lungs literally get flooded by these compounds, and you develop a life-threatening pneumonia as a consequence,” Gillis explains.

“We are learning, interestingly, that having an inability to overproduce these cytokines, which is what fibromyalgia is all about, seems to make you less susceptible to the worst effects of COVID-19,” Gillis continues. “If you have this innate deficiency, you’re less susceptible to COVID-19.”

The study concluded, “Individuals with FM/a test positive fibromyalgia have a reduced ability to produce IL-6 and IL-8, which play significant roles in the cytokine storm complications associated with COVID-19 infections. When screened for evidence of past COVID-19 infections, these patients experienced an extremely low incidence of COVID-19 infections based upon antibody testing, there were no mortalities, and the level of morbidity was significantly below what has been reported in general populations.”

Prior to the onslaught of COVID-19 last year, EpicGenetics was planning to conduct a clinical trial using the century-old Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) tuberculosis vaccine as a possible treatment for fibromyalgia. Vaccines are typically given to healthy people to prevent infection. In this case, however, the BCG vaccine will be administered to fibromyalgia patients in an effort to quell their symptoms.

Gillis is hopeful the BCG vaccine could provide a relief because it increases the same cytokines and chemokines that are deficient in fibromyalgia patients. The BCG study was delayed in 2019 in order to incorporate the findings of a separate genomics project after University of Illinois researchers found a promising DNA pattern for fibromyalgia.

(Read more: Century-old vaccine gives new hope to fibromyalgia community)

(Read more: Genetic signatures and fibromyalgia | On the cusp of a breakthrough)

Then, COVID-19 hit U.S. shores in early 2020, and the BCG study was delayed yet again.

“I don’t want to reverse a person’s fibromyalgia [using the BCG vaccine], and by doing so, increase their susceptibility to COVID-19 because fibromyalgia won’t kill you, but COVID-19 potentially could,” Gillis explains.

Patients who test positive for fibromyalgia using the FM/a fibromyalgia blood test qualify to participate in the upcoming BCG study. However, it’s unknown at this time how many medical centers will participate in the trial and where they will be located.

Medicare and many private insurance companies now cover the test. For more information, visit www.FMTest.com.

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By Donna Gregory Burch

Donna Gregory Burch was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2014 after several years of unexplained pain, fatigue and other symptoms. She was later diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease. Donna covers news, treatments, research and practical tips for living better with fibromyalgia and Lyme on her blog, FedUpwithFatigue.com. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Donna is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared online and in newspapers and magazines throughout Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania. She lives in Delaware with her husband and their many fur babies.

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7 thoughts on “Living with Fibromyalgia Has an Advantage?!”

  1. steve says:

    I took the test and tested positive, still waiting for the trial results

  2. Barbara says:

    This is such nonsense. My immune markers are elevated not deficient.
    The Fibro Patients in our support group have not been outside in a year. That is why they did not get Covid.

  3. Catherine says:

    Wow!!!!!!! And not really surprised. I don’t get flu or colds. So interesting! I live with fibromyalgia. Anyone who has fibromyalgia knows what I mean by that! Chronic pain. Poor sleep. Etc. Maybe I instinctively knew this about Covid. I haven’t been worried about it at all.,

  4. A Simmonds says:

    If you have had the BCG vaccibation as a child, does that mean you cannot gain any advantage for Fibro by having it again?
    Could it also be a factor in your Fibro symptoms not being as bad as other sufferers?

  5. Pearls says:

    I’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia since 2002. Since that time, I’ve learned to deal with it, and have greatly improved my health. So, from that point of view, I knew there were some advantages to fibromyalgia, as long as you really do something about it. It also can give you some great perspective.

    But the advantage talked about here is really exciting. Thank you for this article

  6. Inge says:

    A question – does this hold true for those of us with ME/CFS not Fibro? Thanks!

  7. Elaine S Beckwith says:

    I am so happy with the research that is coming forward. When I was first diagnosed properly at age 40 ( I know I had fibro since very young when I look back), I am now 62. Notice I said diagnosed properly. The only thing they had to offer me at that time was pain pills and a raw diet. Which didn’t go very well with the sensitive stomach that we have some times with fibromyalgia. I continue to do my own research and learn everything I can about my symptoms and did the best with what I could work with. Today the research is really encouraging and all I can say is I’ve been waiting.! 🙂

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