What Happens When Your Body Is Infected With Coronavirus?
- First, your lungs are affected causing a respiratory illness.
- Symptoms, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath may occur as soon as 2 days, or as long as 14 days after being exposed.
- Coronavirus may also cause damage to your body’s other organs.
- Serious harm can occur to critical organs — even death in extreme cases.
Unfortunately, one thing we do know is that in severe cases the coronavirus can have catastrophic effects on your body — and we’re not just talking about your lungs.
What scientist have learned is that the coronavirus, referred to as COVID-19, threatens to damage several different systems in your body.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Effects On Lungs
As with other coronavirus illnesses, which range from the common cold to much scarier viruses like SARS and MERS, COVID-19 is primarily believed to be a respiratory disease, since the lungs are usually affected first.
The first symptoms appear within 2 days up to 14 day after you are exposed and commonly include shortness of breath, cough and fever.
Interestingly, some infected individuals only experience mild symptoms and sometimes exhibit no symptoms at all. However, for less-fortunate victims, COVID-19 is a severe and even fatal illness. Out of a reported 17,000 cases of coronavirus in China, a whopping 20% were considered severe or critical, while 81% were considered mild.
Those suffering from chronic medical conditions and the elderly appear to have a higher risk for developing a severe illness.
The severity in which COVID-19 affects the lungs also tends to vary.
Some people develop non-life-threatening pneumonia, while others may experience minor respiratory symptoms or almost no symptoms at all. But there is also a segment of sickened individuals who suffer from severe lung damage due to COVID-19 infection.
According to Dr. Laura E. Evans, a member of the Society of Critical Care Medicine Leadership Council and an associate professor of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle, unlucky patients who are “severely ill with [COVID-19]” can exhibit a condition referred to as Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
A number of infections can result in ARDS, including infection, trauma, and sepsis. ARDS damages your lungs, causing fluid to leak from the small blood vessels in your lungs. The alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs) collect fluid compromising your lungs ability to transfer oxygen from the air to your blood.
While there’s a shortage of information on the type of damage that occurs in the lungs during COVID-19, a recent report suggests it’s comparable to the damage caused by SARS and MERS.
The bad news is that “there isn’t a specific treatment for ARDS,” according to Dr. Evans. “We just support the person through this process as best we can, allowing their bodies to heal and their immune system to address the underlying events.” Typically, people experience difficulty breathing around 5 days after symptoms begin with ARDS developing around 8 days after symptoms occur. Supplemental oxygen and mechanical ventilation are provided to get more oxygen into the blood as a current treatment for ARDS.
COVID-19: Other Organs Affected
Although coronavirus (COVID-9) is believed to primarily affect the lungs, “in patients who become severely ill, a good proportion of those patients also develop dysfunction in other organ systems,” Dr. Evans said.
However, she says that can happen with many other severe infections and that damage to organs can also result from your body’s response to the infection.
COVID-19: Stomach & Intestines
Coronaviruses most commonly infects the body through the lungs, however we now understand that the intestines are also susceptible to these viruses. Although less common than problems with the lungs, patients with COVID-19 have reported gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea and diarrhea.
A recent study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that stool samples of patients with COVID-19 tested positive confirming the presence of the virus. It’s not surprising considering that the viruses that cause the related coronavirus, SARS and MERS, have been identified in intestinal tissue biopsies and stool samples.
However, it is not yet understood whether transmission of COVID-19 can occur through fecal transmission.
Coraonavirus Affects The Heart & Blood Vessels
Evans says COVID-19 can also affect your heart and blood vessels resulting in irregular heart rhythms, not enough blood getting to your vital tissues, and blood pressure so low that it requires medications. The hope is that the virus doesn’t directly damage your heart.
Coronavirus: Liver & Kidney Effects
Dr. James Cherry, a research Professor of pediatric research in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, claims that kidney damage may result from changes that happen during coronavirus infection, saying that for example, “when you have pneumonia, you have less oxygen circulated,” and that can damage the kidneys.
COVID-19 Effects On Your Immune System
Your body’s immune system is designed to work by attacking a foreign virus or bacteria when infected. Unfortunately, this immune response can also cause serious damage while ridding your body of the infection.
Our immune cells release inflammatory cytokines to fight an infections, but if too many are released, it can incite an intense and potentially harmful inflammatory response referred to as a “cytokine storm” causing more problems for the body.
According to Dr. Evans, “A lot of [the damage in the body during COVID-19] is due to what we would call a sepsis syndrome, which is due to complex immune reactions.” “The infection itself can generate an intense inflammatory response in the body that can affect the function of multiple organ systems.”
Interestingly, scientists are confused as to whether young children are unaffected by the virus or if their symptoms are so mild that they are undetectable. So far, almost no cases of COVID-19 have been reported in children under the age of 9. Dr. Cherry wasn’t surprised, considering that children commonly have less severe illnesses than adults with certain types of infections, including pneumococcal infections and the measles.
Dr. Cherry suspects that this could be because children tend to have a more “straightforward immune response,” whereas older people with more reactive immune systems can often experience an “over-response” to a given infection. He claims that this over-reactive immune response could be partially responsible for the damage, citing that “there was evidence of this happening during SARS” as well.
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