It’s a lung condition first and foremost, but scientists are uncovering evidence coronavirus can also attack a patient’s blood, liver, brain and kidney.
- In addition to respiratory distress, patients with COVID-19 can experience blood clotting disorders that can lead to strokes
- The virus can also cause neurological complications that range from headaches, dizziness and loss of taste or smell to seizures and confusion
- Studies are just getting underway to understand the long-term effects of infection
The effects may also linger on patients and health systems for years to come, according to doctors and infectious disease experts.
Besides the respiratory issues that leave patients gasping for breath, the virus that causes COVID-19 attacks many organ systems, in some cases causing catastrophic damage.
“We thought this was only a respiratory virus. Turns out, it goes after the pancreas. It goes after the heart. It goes after the liver, the brain, the kidney and other organs. We didn’t appreciate that in the beginning,” said Dr Eric Topol, a cardiologist and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute in La Jolla, California.
In addition to respiratory distress, patients with COVID-19 can experience blood clotting disorders that can lead to strokes, and extreme inflammation that attacks multiple organ systems.
The virus can also cause neurological complications that range from headache, dizziness and loss of taste or smell to seizures and confusion.
The broad and diverse manifestations of COVID-19 are somewhat unique, said cardiologist Dr Sadiya Khan, from Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.
With influenza, people with underlying heart conditions are also at higher risk of complications, Dr Khan said. What is surprising about this virus is the extent of the complications occurring outside the lungs.
Dr Khan believes there will be a huge healthcare expenditure and burden for individuals who have survived COVID-19.
“It can take up to seven days for every one day that you’re hospitalised to recover that type of strength,” Dr Khan said.
“It’s harder the older you are, and you may never get back to the same level of function.”
Studies are just getting underway to understand the long-term effects of infection, said Jay Butler, deputy director of infectious diseases at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Current scientific literature showed about half of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 had neurological complications, such as dizziness, decreased alertness, difficulty concentrating, disorders of smell and taste, seizures, strokes, weakness and muscle pain.