Days After Infection, the Corona-virus Can Spread to the Heart and Brain
According to a new study published by the National Institutes of Health, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can travel to the heart and brain within days of infection and can live for months in organs after being removed from the body.
According to the study’s authors, the virus has the ability to spread to practically every organ system in the body, which may contribute to the persistent symptoms experienced by “long COVID” patients.
The research is widely regarded as one of the most complete studies yet conducted on the virus’s replication in human cells and persistence in the human body. Currently, it is being considered for publication in the journal Nature.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Ziyad Al-Aly, MD, head of the Clinical Epidemiology Center at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System in Missouri, said, “This is really important work.” Al-Aly was not a participant in this trial, but he has conducted research into the long-term effects of COVID-19.
We have been scratching our heads for a long time and wondering why COVID appears to damage so many organ systems for such a lengthy period of time,” he explained.
According to the authors, “This work provides new insight into and may aid in explaining why protracted COVID can exist even in persons who have a mild or asymptomatic acute disease.”
The researchers from the National Institutes of Health collected and evaluated samples from the autopsy performed on 44 patients who died after catching coronavirus during the first year of the epidemic in the United States.
They discovered persistent virus particles in many regions of the body, including the heart and brain, for up to 230 days after the onset of symptoms. They speculated that this could be due to an infection with faulty virus particles, which has been observed in patients with measles who have had persistent infections.
In an interview with Bloomberg News, Raina MacIntyre, Ph.D., a professor of global biosecurity at the University of New South Wales, said, “We don’t know what burden of chronic illness may result in years to come.”
“Will we witness early-onset heart failure in survivors, or will we see early-onset dementia in survivors?” she wondered. As a result of the remaining unsolved questions, a preventive public health approach to mitigating the spread of this virus is recommended.
A more detailed post-mortem tissue collecting technique was used by the National Institutes of Health team, compared to prior COVID-19 autopsy research, according to Bloomberg News.
The process was often completed within a day of the patient’s death. In addition, the researchers used a number of techniques to preserve tissue in order to determine viral levels. In their experiments, they were able to develop the virus that had been obtained from several tissues, including the heart, lungs, small intestine, and adrenal glands.
Although the biggest burden of SARS-CoV-2 is found in the airways and lung, the researchers concluded that the virus can disperse early during infection and infect cells across the entire body, including cells in the brain.