Examining the lungs of people who have died from COVID-19 has found persistent and widespread damage in most cases and can help doctors understand what is behind a syndrome known as “long-term COVID”.
Scientists leading the research said they also found some unique properties of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which could explain why it can cause such damage.
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“The results show that COVID-19 is not simply a disease caused by the death of virus-infected cells, but is likely the result of these abnormal cells persisting in the lungs for long periods of time,” said Mauro Jacket, professor at King’s. London College.
The researchers analyzed tissue samples from the lungs, heart, liver and kidneys of 41 patients who died of COVID-19 between February and April at the University of Trieste, Italy.
Jacket said that while his team found no obvious signs of viral infection or persistent inflammation in other organs, they found “a real breakdown in the architecture of the lungs” with healthy tissue “almost completely replaced” with scar tissue.
“It could very well be considered that one of the reasons there are long-term COVID cases is because the lungs (tissues) are badly destroyed,” he said.
“Even if someone recovers from COVID, the damage done can be enormous.”
Growing evidence suggests that a small percentage of people who have had COVID-19 and recovered may experience a range of persistent symptoms, including fatigue, brain fog, and shortness of breath.
The condition is known as long COVID.
According to Jacket, nearly 90 percent of the 41 patients had several unique features of COVID-19 compared to other forms of pneumonia.
One of these was extensive blood clotting of the arteries and pulmonary veins.
Another reason was that some lung cells were unusually large and had many nuclei, the result of the fusion of different cells into single large cells in a process known as syncytium.
The study, published in the Lancet eBioMedicine journal, also found that the virus was still present in many cell types.
Australian Associated Press