New Study on Lung damage may shed light on ‘long COVID’
A study of the lungs of people who have died from COVID-19 has found persistent and extensive lung damage in most cases and may help doctors understand what is behind a syndrome known as ‘long COVID’, in which patients suffer ongoing symptoms for months.
In a telephone interview, Mauro Giacca, a professor at King’s College London who co-led the work, said that while his research team found no overt signs of viral infection or prolonged inflammation in other organs, they discovered “really vast destruction of the architecture of the lungs”, with healthy tissue “almost completely substituted by scar tissue”.
Giacca said almost 90% of the 41 patients in the study had several characteristics unique to COVID-19 compared to other forms of pneumonia. One was that patients had extensive blood clotting of the lung arteries and veins. Another was that some lung cells were abnormally large and had many nuclei – a result of the fusion of different cells into single large cells in a process known as syncytia.
The future for COVID care
Doctors are now concerned that the pandemic will lead to a significant surge of people battling lasting illnesses and disabilities. Because the disease is so new, no one knows yet what the long-term impacts will be. Some of the damage is likely to be a side effect of intensive treatments such as intubation, whereas other lingering problems could be caused by the virus itself. But preliminary studies and existing research into other coronaviruses suggest that the virus can injure multiple organs and cause some surprising symptoms.
People with more severe infections might experience long-term damage not just in their lungs, but in their heart, immune system, brain and elsewhere. Evidence from previous coronavirus outbreaks, especially the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, suggests that these effects can last for years.