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Long COVID: Can it cause persistent lung disease?

0 2 years ago

People with COVID-19 often experience various symptomsTrusted Source

depending on the severity of their illness. Symptoms appear 2–14 days after exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and last 1–4 weeks on average.

It has been difficult to estimate the prevalence of long-term symptoms following SARS-CoV-2 infection, partly because diagnostic criteria remain unclear.

However, last year, the Office for National Statistics published data suggesting that long-term symptoms occur in 7–18% of people who experienced symptomatic COVID-19.

These long-term effects after COVID-19Trusted Source

are known as long COVID or post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC).

PASC can range from mild to debilitating, with new symptoms arising or evolving long after the initial infection.

Dr. Brett M. Elicker, M.D., a clinical professor in the Department of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging at the University of California, San Francisco, discusses radiology findings in an editorial that accompanies the recent research.

Dr. Elicker explains that the long-term effects of viral pneumonia depend on the direct injury that the virus causes and the body’s immune reaction to the virus. Damage to the lungs occurs in two patterns:

  • Constrictive bronchiolitis, or small airway disease: Inflammation within the bronchioles — the small airways — and surrounding areas results in airway narrowing due to scarring or fibrosis.
  • Diffuse alveolar damage (DAD): Fibrosis to the alveoli — tiny balloon-shaped structures at the end of the bronchioles that exchange gas in the lungs — which may improve over time, but often some scarring remains.

He was responding to a study that used CTTrusted Source

scans to image the lungs of people with persistent symptoms following confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection. The scans showed air trapping, which indicates small airway disease.

Air trapping refers to pockets of air that become trapped in the lung after breathing out. In other words, they prevent the individual from exhaling completely. Air trapping is common in conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

CT scans of people who have experienced COVID-19 also indicate ground glass opacity (GGO), suggesting DAD.


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