Doctors may now understand the physiology behind the aftermath of COVID-19 infection known as the “long COVID” syndrome, in which patients suffer some persistent symptoms for months, long after they must have recovered from the disease.
This new-found knowledge was made possible after a team of researchers from King’s College London undertook a study of the lungs of people who have died from COVID-19. The study revealed extensive lung damage in most COVID-19 corpses.
The researchers also reported some characteristics unique to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, revealing why this virus is able to drive the destructive damage that it inflicts on most patients.
Reporting his findings, Mauro Giacca, a professor at King’s College London and one of the leading researchers in this study, revealed that COVID-19 does not only cause the death of cells in the lungs that it invades but also persists in the lungs long enough to inflict prolonged damage.
For this study, the team examined the samples of tissues from the lungs, heart, liver, and kidneys that they got from the cadavers of 41 people that had died of COVID-19 at the University of Trieste, Italy, from February through April 2020.
In an interview, Giacca said that while on the research, his team found no clear cause of viral infection or persistent inflammation in other organs they examined. However, when they examined the lungs, there was massive destruction in the architecture of the organ. He said scar tissues almost completely replaced healthy tissues in the lungs.
Speaking with Reuters, Giacca linked syndromes of long COVID experienced by most patients who had recovered from COVID-19 to this massive destruction in the architecture of the lungs. He said even when they recover, the destruction is just so widespread that they would continue experiencing ongoing symptoms for months.
Cases are abundant from around the world, which confirmed that some persons who had COVID-19 and recovered experienced symptoms such as fatigue, brain fog, shortness of breath, and others, in what is otherwise known as “long COVID.”
The research team also discovered other characteristics in the lungs of the cadavers. They found out that there was a blood clot in the veins and arteries of the lungs. They also noticed that some lung cells were abnormally large and had many nuclei, occasioned by the fusion of separate cells into single large cells. This process is called syncytia.
Giacca reported that nearly 90% of the 41 patients had characteristics consistent with COVID-19 than with other forms of pneumonia.
The study was published in the journal Lancet eBioMedicine.