Understanding how COVID-19 attacks the human body is essential to developing an effective treatment or vaccine to stop the global pandemic — but there’s still so much we don’t know about how it can kill us.
As researchers around the world race to understand the illness, they are compiling and sharing their early observations of patients hit by a virus that has sickened more than two million people. The findings are preliminary, but they can help point researchers in the right directions.
They have seen that in severe cases, COVID-19 invades our respiratory cells and triggers an immune system response that targets those infected cells, destroys lung tissue and ultimately clogs our airways, cutting off our oxygen supply.
That’s when organ failure can also occur, causing severe damage to the kidneys, liver and heart, similar to other conditions like sepsis.
But they will look to determine whether the virus is targeting and shutting down organs in a new way or just behaving like other infections that cause such common complications.
Why COVID-19 can be so deadly
One key thing to understand about the deadliness of the coronavirus is how it infects the body and how our body responds to fight it.
Cytokines are small molecules released by the immune system that travel throughout the body to co-ordinate an immune response against an infection or injury — even with something as common as a mild fever.
But if the immune system overproduces them in response to the infection, they can cause “cytokine storms” that can rampage through the bloodstream and severely damage the body.
Dr. Douglas Fraser, an ICU doctor at London Health Sciences Centre and a researcher at Western University in London, Ont., has been studying that exaggerated immune response by collecting blood from critically ill COVID-19 patients in an effort to find new ways to treat the disease.
“The immune response to this particular disease is very different than what we’ve seen in other infected patients that end up in the ICU,” he said. “It’s a unique response and it’s going to require unique therapies.”
Fraser said his research shows there are different types of cytokines released in the body at unusual times and levels in response to COVID-19 compared with those that are typically found in critically ill patients from more common diseases.
“What we’re seeing seems to be occurring in all of the very sick patients: those who are requiring the ICU admissions, those who are requiring assistance with their breathing and those that are ultimately dying,” he said.
Image Credit: Claudio Furlan/LaPresse via AP
News This Week
Switzerland’s Covid-19 scientific taskforce chief says hospitals across the Alpine country could be swamped with new coronavirus cases in the next two or three weeks unless the situation improves. “We estimate that the capacity limit [...]
Scientists are to increase surveillance for new coronavirus mutations amid concerns that future strains of the virus could develop at least partial resistance to antibody treatments and Covid-19 vaccines. There is no evidence that the [...]
From the moment you turn off your morning alarm, to the time you hit the pillow, your life is full of surfaces. Swiping through your phone, opening doors, putting in your PIN – there are [...]
A new report suggests that lingering “brain fog” and other neurological symptoms after COVID -19 recovery may be due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an effect observed in past human coronavirus outbreaks such as SARS [...]
ClSARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, can relieve pain, according to a new study by University of Arizona Health Sciences researchers. The finding may explain why nearly half of people who get COVID-19 [...]
Contrary to president Donald Trump’s repeated declarations, the coronavirus pandemic was not — and still isn’t — totally under control. That lie is central to “Totally Under Control,” the [...]
Summary: A new study suggests COVID-19 may deplete testosterone levels in males. Findings reveal as testosterone decreased, the severity of coronavirus increased. Men who died from coronavirus infection had significantly lower mean testosterone than those [...]
It is the question scientists around the world are trying to answer: how long can the coronavirus survive in the tiny aerosol particles we exhale? In a high-security lab near Bristol, entered through a series [...]
As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, researchers are working overtime to develop vaccines and therapies to thwart SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for the disease Many efforts focus on the coronavirus spike protein, which binds the [...]
A research team in Hungary pinched the coronavirus with a fine needle to measure how much force it could take before popping like a balloon. It did not. The native virion of Sars-CoV-2 – a [...]
Headaches, confusion and delirium experienced by some Covid-19 patients could be the result of the coronavirus directly invading the brain, according to a study published Wednesday. The research is still preliminary – but offers several [...]
By Boris M | Published in Coronavirus During the COVID-19 pandemic, there will be a lot of information about the virus and its effects on mental health. That’s because coronavirus and the social, financial and psychological [...]
A serious illness suffered by an Oxford University coronavirus vaccine trial participant was most likely “life-threatening”, a bioethics researcher says. But that doesn’t mean the clinical trials will be scrapped. AstraZeneca and Oxford University [...]
Analysis of seven trials finds dexamethasone and hydrocortisone should be given in severe cases. Studies around the world have confirmed that steroids can save lives in the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to new recommendations from [...]