From ‘comfortable hypoxia’ to purpuric rashes — here are all the perilous ways the coronavirus attacks the body

A nurse wears private protecting gear (PPE) as she cares for a coronavirus COVID-19 affected person in the intensive care unit (I.C.U.) at Regional Medical Center on May 21, 2020 in San Jose, California.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

It’s been virtually eight months since Chinese scientists first recognized the coronavirus and docs are nonetheless discovering new signs that may ravage the body and go away lasting harm months after recovering from Covid-19. 

While greater than 813,000 individuals have died from the illness, a majority of the greater than 23.6 million individuals with confirmed infections have recovered. But it hasn’t affected all of them the identical. Once regarded as only a respiratory sickness, Covid-19 is marked as a lot by the number of doubtlessly perilous ways it harms the body as it’s for the signature pneumonia it typically causes, alarming docs and public well being officers. 

Because the coronavirus attacks quite a lot of kinds of cells in the body, there is not one factor that connects each symptom or one remedy that appears to assist each case. 

Doctors know Covid-19 will be unpredictable, stressing nearly each system in the body, together with the coronary heart, kidneys and the mind. Some sufferers could endure long-lasting nerve harm that impacts their potential to stroll or odor, whereas others have steady coughing matches and wrestle to breathe, scientists and well being officers say. 

“We have to come to grips that Covid might kill me, but it could also debilitate you over a significant period of time. And therefore we have to take it seriously,” Dr. Mike Ryan, government director of the World Health Organization’s well being emergencies program, mentioned throughout a Q&A on July 29. “We have to take protecting ourselves and protecting others seriously. At some level, we have the right to potentially risk harm to ourselves. We have no right to risk harm to others.”

Below is a have a look at what we all know the coronavirus does to the body:

Common signs

Researchers say signs can range relying on the severity of the illness. According to an early estimate from the WHO, about 80% of Covid-19 instances are both delicate or asymptomatic, that means the individual by no means develops signs. 

The commonest signs amongst individuals who are not hospitalized with Covid-19 are dry cough, tiredness and fever, in accordance to the WHO. Some sufferers could have muscle or body aches, a headache, nasal congestion, runny nostril or sore throat, the company mentioned. Many individuals additionally expertise signs akin to nausea, vomiting or diarrhea, typically prior to growing a fever, in accordance to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Because the virus attacks the lungs, individuals can expertise shortness of breath or issue respiratory. Some individuals with Covid-19 have even left hospitals wholesome, solely to expertise coughing matches and issues respiratory 10 or 15 weeks later, WHO’s Ryan has mentioned. 

In extreme instances, sufferers could catch pneumonia, a critical sickness that kills about 50,000 individuals in the United States every year, in accordance to the CDC. People with pneumonia may additionally have acute respiratory misery syndrome, a life-threatening damage that causes fluid to fill the lungs, proscribing air. The proportion of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza rose sharply earlier in the yr, growing to 8.2%, in accordance to a report from the CDC in April. The surge probably displays deaths related to Covid-19, the company mentioned.


Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, is a uncommon inflammatory situation present in kisa with Covid-19 that is related to Kawasaki syndrome. In April, the WHO mentioned it was investigating the mysterious illness after listening to about a number of experiences of youngsters, a lot of whom had examined optimistic for Covid-19, being hospitalized with fever and swollen arteries. Some had died.

Health officers are nonetheless studying what connection Covid-19 has with the situation, which might inflame completely different elements of the body together with the coronary heart, lungs, kidneys, mind, pores and skin, eyes, and gastrointestinal organs, in accordance to the CDC. Symptoms can embody stomach ache, vomiting, diarrhea, neck ache, a rash, bloodshot eyes and fatigue, in accordance to the CDC. Severe problems akin to cardiac dysfunction, shock and damage to the kidneys can happen in some instances, in accordance to the CDC.

It can current in youngsters at any time, typically occurring one to six weeks following an infection, in accordance to researchers at the University of Buffalo. Reported instances present that Black, Hispanic and Asian youngsters may be disproportionately affected, in accordance to a paper in the Lancet. 

Taste and odor loss

In April, the CDC added a sudden lack of style or odor to its listing of widespread indicators of coronavirus an infection. But lengthy earlier than the CDC’s disclosure, docs had been warning that some sufferers contaminated with the virus have been reporting issues.

People typically expertise the signs throughout the early phases of the illness, in accordance to the WHO. A analysis crew at King’s College London in April recognized a lack of style and odor as considered one of the finest ways to detect whether or not somebody has Covid-19 after analyzing responses of greater than 400,000 individuals who had a number of suspected signs of the illness. The outcomes mentioned that 59% of those that examined optimistic for the virus reported a lack of style and odor. 

The signs are not unusual with different viral infections. Researchers say many viruses, akin to ones that trigger the widespread chilly or flu, may cause style and odor loss due to congestion. However, researchers in Britain famous the signs could also be extra extreme in individuals who have Covid-19. That could also be due to the method the coronavirus impacts the mind and nervous system, they mentioned, including it might affect completely different mechanisms in the body answerable for style and odor.

Rashes and hives

A coronavirus an infection may additionally set off rashes or hives on the pores and skin, in accordance to dermatologists in a research printed Aug. 5 in JAMA Dermatology. 

Researchers in New York checked out 4 sufferers who have been admitted to the hospital with extreme types of Covid-19 from March 13 to April 3. They discovered pores and skin was discolored and had retiform purpura, a kind of lesion. The researchers mentioned the findings might be an indication of blood clots.

“The findings suggest that clinicians caring for patients with COVID-19 should be aware of livedoid and purpuric rashes as potential manifestations of an underlying hypercoagulable state,” the researchers wrote in the paper. “If these skin findings are identified, a skin biopsy should be considered because the result may guide anticoagulation management. 

Brain fog

Some patients who have long recovered from coronavirus infection say they now have difficulty concentrating and are sometimes confused, according to a study looking at 60 patients.

The study, published in the medical journal Lancet earlier this month, compared MRIs of Covid-19 patients with those who did not have the infection. It found the patients with Covid-19 had structural changes in the brain that correlated with memory loss three months after testing positive. “This requires consideration since even when the sufferers get better nicely from the pneumonia situation, the neurological adjustments could trigger an awesome burden,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Heart complications

Doctors have found Covid-19 can cause damage to the heart, sometimes leading to heart failure.

A study published in the medical journal JAMA Cardiology in March looked at 416 patients hospitalized with Covid-19 between Jan. 20 and Feb. 10 and found 19.7% showed signs of cardiac injury. Patients with cardiac injury in the study were often elderly and had preexisting conditions, including hypertension. A separate study published in JAMA Cardiology in July examined MRIs from 100 people who recovered from Covid-19. They found 78 of them had heart abnormalities and 60 had signs of inflammation.

Researchers say the coronavirus appears to be capable of attacking the heart’s muscle tissue as well as the receptors that help protect heart cells. The virus can put stress on the body, impacting the body’s ability to pump blood effectively or carry oxygen. The body’s own immune response from the virus may also cause damage to the heart.

Blood clots and strokes

Covid-19 patients, including young people who were otherwise healthy, may be at risk of blood clots and stroke, according to an observational study published in Neurosurgery in June.

Researchers at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, in collaboration with NYU Langone Medical Center, analyzed 14 patients who had strokes and tested positive for Covid-19 from March 20 until April 10. They said 42% of the patients studied were under the age of 50 even though most strokes in the U.S. occur in people over the age of 65.

“We have been seeing sufferers of their 30s, 40s and 50s with huge strokes, the form that we usually see in sufferers of their 70s and 80s,” Dr. Pascal Jabbour, a neurosurgeon at the Vickie and Jack Farber Institute for Neuroscience, said in a release. “Stroke is going on in individuals who do not know they’ve COVID-19, in addition to those that really feel sick from their infections.”

While the observational study was preliminary, Jabbour speculated the virus could be interfering with a receptor in the body that controls blood flow to the brain. 

Kidney damage 

Covid-19 can also cause long-term kidney damage, including kidney failure and death, according to the WHO.

The American Society of Nephrology, a U.S.organization focused on kidney disease, reported that 20% to 30% of patients hospitalized with a coronavirus infection develop kidney failure that requires dialysis.

The kidney damage may be a result of tiny clots that form in the bloodstream as a result of Covid-19, Dr. John Sperati, a professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, wrote in a post. Like the heart, the virus may also be infecting the cells of the kidney and damage the tissue, he said. Low oxygen levels as a result of pneumonia may also be an issue. 

Happy hypoxia

Low oxygen levels in some patients may be a result of widened blood vessels in the lungs caused by Covid-19, according to a study by reserachers at Mount Sinai.

The researchers performed a so-called bubble study, which is a non-invasive and painless technique for stroke risk that involves injecting saline containing tiny air bubbles into a vein. Normally, the microbubbles would travel to the right side of the heart, enter the blood vessels of the lungs, and ultimately get filtered by the pulmonary capillaries, they said. However, when researchers performed the test, they found the bubbles passed through the lungs and into the brain.

“It is turning into extra evident that the virus wreaks havoc on the pulmonary vasculature in quite a lot of ways. This research helps clarify the unusual phenomenon seen in some COVID-19 sufferers generally known as ‘comfortable hypoxia,’ the place oxygen ranges are very low, however the sufferers don’t seem to be in respiratory misery,” Dr. Hooman Poor, a pulmonologist at Mount Sinai, mentioned in a launch.

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