COVID-19 which took the lives of around 24,000 people around the globe, started in late 2019 as a cluster of pneumonia cases with an unknown cause. It was later found that the new virus — severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or Sars-CoV-2. The ailment caused by the virus is COVID-19.
According to the World Health Organisation, 80 per cent of the people infected got cured without needing any special treatment; wherein only 1 out of 6 became seriously ill.
So how did Coronavirus develop into such severe illness featuring pneumonia, also what does that do to our lungs and our body?
How does the virus affect people?
As per experts, all severe consequences of COVID-19 trait pneumonia, wherein they broadly categorise it into four. They are as follows:
- The first category consists of people who are in the least danger as they are “sub-clinical” and who have the virus but have no symptoms.
- Next category consists of those who get an infection in the upper respiratory tract leading to the person having a fever and cough also maybe milder symptoms like headache or conjunctivitis. Such people will be able to spread the virus, but may not know the same.
- The largest group of those tested positive for COVID-19, and the people who got hospitalised and surgeries, are those who develop the same flu-like symptoms that would normally keep them off work.
- The fourth category is wherein people develop severe illness that features pneumonia.
In the case of Wuhan, out of those who got infected and had sought medical help, roughly 6 per cent had a severe illness, as per reports.
How does pneumonia develop?
Once the infection reaches the respiratory tree – the air passages that conduct air between the lungs and the outside, infected develop symptoms like cough and fever.
Thus, the lining of the respiratory tree gets damaged due to the virus, causing inflammation. This, in turn, irritates the nerves in the lining of the airway, wherein a speck of dust is enough to stimulate a cough.
This situation becomes worse when the infection goes past just the lining of the airway and to the gas exchange units, which are at the end of the air passages.
Once they are infected, it responds by pouring out inflammatory material into the air sacs that are at the bottom of our lungs. Then the air sacs become inflamed, causing an outpour of inflammatory material [fluid and inflammatory cells] into the lungs, and thus we end up with pneumonia.
When the lungs are filled with inflammatory material, it is unable to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream, reducing the body’s ability to take on oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. This is the usual cause of death with severe pneumonia.
How can COVID-19 pneumonia be treated?
Unfortunately, so far we don’t have anything that can stop people from getting COVID-19 pneumonia. Social distancing is one way you can reduce the spread of the virus, but a cure is yet to be developed.
Currently, health care teams use various combination of viral and anti-viral medications that could be effective. However, as of now, there is no established treatment apart from supportive treatment, which is what health care teams provide to people in intensive care.
The infected are put in ventilation with a high level of oxygen until their lungs are able to function normally.
Patients with viral pneumonia are at risk of developing secondary infections, so they would also be treated with anti-viral medication and antibiotics.
How is COVID-19 pneumonia different?
COVID-19 pneumonia is different from most of the cases which have been recorded yet. In most pneumonia cases wherein people are hospitalised for bacterial, and they mostly respond to an antibiotic.
Experts say that as per the evidence, COVID-19 pneumonia affects all of the lungs rather than small parts. They further explain that if there is an infection in the lungs, which involves air sacs, then the body’s response is first to try and destroy [the virus] and limit its replication.
However, “first responder mechanism” can be impaired in some groups, including people with underlying heart and lung diseases, diabetes and the elderly.
Generally, people aged 65 and above are at risk of getting pneumonia, as well as people with medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer or chronic disease affecting the lungs, heart, kidney or liver, smokers, Indigenous Australians, and infants aged 12 months and under.
Age is one main predator in case of pneumonia, as it is always severe for older adults. It used to be one of the main reason for death among older people before, but because of the advancement in science, now we have treatments.
One key point that we must remember is that no matter how active we are, with the passing of age, our immunity system weakens, making it challenging for our body to fight against bacterias and diseases.