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.
Subscribe to the World's Most Popular Fibromyalgia Newsletter (it's free!)
“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.
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.