In a new study from the National Institutes of Health, researchers found lung autopsy and plasma samples from people who died of COVID-19 have provided a clearer picture of how the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads and damages lung tissue.
The finding could help predict severe and prolonged COVID-19 cases, particularly among high-risk people, and inform effective treatments.
The scientists say their data revealed trends that could help develop new COVID-19 therapeutics and fine-tune when to use existing therapeutics at different stages of disease progression.
In the study, the team examined patients who died between March and July 2020, with time of death ranging from three to 47 days after symptoms began.
The samples were from patients who had at least one high-risk condition. The varied timeframe allowed the scientists to compare short, intermediate, and long-term cases.
Every case showed findings consistent with diffuse alveolar damage, which prevents proper oxygen flow to the blood and eventually makes lungs thickened and stiff.
The findings include details about how SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, spreads in the lungs, manipulates the immune system, causes widespread thrombosis that does not resolve, and targets signalling pathways that promote lung failure, fibrosis and impair tissue repair.
The team also found that SARS-CoV-2 directly infected basal epithelial cells within the lungs, impeding their essential function of repairing damaged airways and lungs and generating healthy tissue.
The process is different from the way influenza viruses attack cells in the lungs. This provides scientists with additional information to use when evaluating or developing antiviral therapeutics.
The researchers say the data are particularly relevant to caring for COVID-19 patients who are elderly, obese, or have diabetes—all considered high-risk populations for severe cases.
If you care about COVID, please read studies about longer-term lung damage after COVID-19 and findings of 1 in 3 people with severe COVID-19 still have lung changes after a year.
For more information about COVID and lung health, please see recent studies about common diabetes drug can help treat COVID-19 lung inflammation and results showing the key to suppressing COVID-19.
The study is published in Science Translational Medicine.
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