What does COVID19 do to the lungs and how fast?

Now declared as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the majority of people who contract Covid-19 suffer only mild, cold-like symptoms. But what happens when lungs get the novel coronavirus?

Below is a disturbing images and video shows how COVID-19 ravaged the lungs of a patient who had been asymptomatic just days earlier.

When people with Covid-19 develop a cough and fever, this is a result of the infection reaching the respiratory tree – the air passages that conduct air between the lungs and the outside. The lining of the respiratory tree becomes injured, causing inflammation. This, in turn, irritates the nerves in the lining of the airway.

Just a speck of dust can stimulate a cough. But if this gets worse, it goes past just the lining of the airway and goes to the gas exchange units, which are at the end of the air passages. If they become infected they respond by pouring out inflammatory material into the air sacs that are at the bottom of our lungs.

If the air sacs then become inflamed, this causes an “outpouring of inflammatory material [fluid and inflammatory cells] into the lungs and we end up with pneumonia. The lungs that become filled with inflammatory material are unable to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream, reducing the body’s ability to take on oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide.

Extensive damage to the lungs is shown in yellow

Dr Keith Mortman, the chief of thoracic surgery at George Washington University Hospital, said the hospital created a 360-degree image of the lungs of a 59-year-old male patient who had been generally healthy except for a history of high blood pressure, CNN reported. In the scans, the yellow areas, which highlight the infected and inflamed regions, cover both of the lungs.

The patient reportedly had no symptoms days before the scan was taken

This is a guy who’s minding his own business and gets it,” Dr Mortman said. If we were to repeat the (360-degree virtual reality images) now, that is one week later, there is a chance that the infection and inflammatory process could be worse.”

When the lungs encounter a viral infection, the organ will start to seal the virus off. From the scan, it is clear that the damage isn't localized to a single area, but instead covers massive swaths of both lungs, showing how rapidly and aggressively the infection can take hold, even in younger patients. A patient with healthy lungs would have no yellow on the scan.

The patient is now in intensive care, being assisted by a ventilator.

The patient, who remains in critical condition in the ICU, has required a ventilator on the highest setting to breathe. Dr Mortman said it’s not known whether the man will fully recover since, for some patients, the damage has so far been irreversible. “I want people to see this and understand what this can do,” Dr Mortman said. “People need to take this seriously.”

"A lot of us, we are walking in the dark with this," Mortman said. "So we want to understand it as best we can. This was our first patient, but I am sure he is the first of what will likely become many in the coming weeks."

Coronavirus Symptoms

COVID-19 can range from mild illness to pneumonia. Some people will recover easily, and others may get very sick very quickly. People with coronavirus may experience:

  • fever

  • flu-like symptoms such as coughing, sore throat and fatigue

  • shortness of breath

If you are concerned you may have COVID-19:

If you are not showing symptoms, you should still protect yourself and others. We continue to encourage hand-washing and social distancing by leaving at least 6 ft. of space between yourself and others when you are outside of your room or apartment. This includes walking around outside, eating at a dining hall, or visiting the library. Here are some other ways to stay healthy

Finally, please continue to keep our Principles of Community in mind. Don’t forget to practice grace, empathy, and compassion towards yourself and others. We will get through this moment in time together.

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