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‘Covid toes’ are caused by the body mistakenly attacking its own cells, study claims

‘Covid toes’ are caused by the body mistakenly attacking its own cells, study claims

  • Study from Paris suggests a link between Covid and ‘chilblain-like lesions’
  • Number of patients reporting lesions on toes during pandemic increased 
  • Research shows they may be caused by an autoimmune response to the virus


‘Covid toes’ could be caused by coronavirus antibodies attacking the body’s own tissue, a study has claimed. 

Throughout the pandemic, there have been reports of infected patients suffering from chilblains — redness and swelling on their feet. But until now, little was known about how the virus triggered the unusual complication.

French researchers now say it could be the result of the body mistakenly attacking healthy tissue. 

That would explain why sufferers around the world have also suffered lesions on other parts of their body.    

Dr Charles Cassius, one of the researchers from Paris’ Saint-Louis Hospital said: ‘The epidemiology and clinical features of chilblain-like lesions have been extensively studied and published.

‘However, little is known about the pathophysiology involved.’ He added: ‘Our study provides new insights.’

Painful lesions on fingers and toes known as ‘Covid toes’ (pictured) could be caused by coronavirus antibodies attacking the body’s own tissue, a study of 50 patients in Paris, France, has claimed

Doctors analysed 50 patients with Covid toes and 13 who had similar chilblain-like lesions before the pandemic.

Patients in both groups had high amounts of a specific antibody in their blood which attacks the body’s healthy cells rather than the virus.  

Patients also had more type 1 interferon — a protein released during the immune response to the infection. 

Some 29 (58 per cent) of the patients suffered other tell-tale Covid symptoms, including a lack of energy (14), fever (11) and cough (9). 

The lesions appeared on toes in 86 per cent of the cases and fingers in 24 per cent of them.

Covid toes first came to global attention in September last year when dermatology practices became inundated with people suffering similar symptoms to chilblains believed to be linked to the virus.

Previous papers from the US, Spain, Belgium and Italy showed they occurred most in children, teenagers and young adults.  

But it has not been added to the official list of coronavirus symptoms in either the UK or US, despite some experts suggesting the presence of Covid toes should provide sufficient grounds for testing.

The lesions can be extremely painful and cause concern when first spotted.

Experts say, however, Covid toes suggest infection is likely to be mild or otherwise asymptomatic because it suggests the body’s immune response has started.

They advise patients to consult a dermatologist or GP to rule out other causes of the lesions.

What are chilblains? 

Chilblains are small, itchy, red patches that can appear after you have been in the cold. 

They usually clear up on their own. 

You may need to see a GP if they do not go away. 

What causes chilblains? 

You can get chilblains when it’s cold. 

The cold makes the tiny blood vessels in your fingers and toes get smaller. 

This stops blood moving around as easily.

If you warm up too quickly, the blood vessels get bigger again and blood rushes to your fingers and toes. 

This can cause pain, redness and swelling.

How do you get rid of chilblains? 

Chilblains usually go away on their own in 2 to 3 weeks.

To get rid of them yourself and stop them coming back you can: 

  • Take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain
  • Avoid being outside when it’s cold or damp
  • Wear warm, waterproof clothing, gloves and thick socks if you do go out when it’s cold or damp

Source: NHS 

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