Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there has been an increasing amount of reports of some patients suffering from so-called “long COVID,” when patients suffer symptoms of the novel disease for months on end even after recovering from an initial infection.
Now, a new study where researchers looked at the lungs of deceased COVID-19 patients may shed light on why it can take months for some to recover.
More specifically, the researchers looked at samples of tissue from the lungs, but also the heart, liver and kidneys of 41 patients who died from COVID-19 at the University Hospital of Trieste in Italy between February and April of this year.
Speaking to Reuters, Mauro Giacca, a professor at King’s College London who co-led the study, said that the heart, liver and kidneys in the deceased patients had “no overt signs of viral infection or prolonged inflammation.” But in the lungs, the researchers found “really vast destruction of the architecture of the lungs.” Any healthy lung tissue was “almost completely substituted by scar tissue,” he noted.
As for what the findings mean for sufferers of long COVID, “it could very well be envisaged that one of the reasons why there are cases of long COVID is because there is [a] vast destruction of [the] lung [tissue],” he told Reuters. “Even if someone recovers from COVID, the damage that is done could be massive.”
Additionally, Giacca said that many types of cells in the deceased patients were still infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
“The presence of these infected cells can cause the major structural changes observed in lungs, which can persist for several weeks or months and could eventually explain ‘long COVID,’” he told the outlet.
The research was published in the journal Lancet eBioMedicine.
The research follows a separate study that claimed to identify risk factors that would make it more likely for a patient to suffer from long COVID.
For instance, the researchers found that among the long-COVID patients, symptoms were most commonly listed as fatigue, headache, dyspnea and anosmia, and were more likely to occur in older patients, those with a higher BMI and in patients who were female. Additionally, experiencing more than five symptoms during the first week of diagnosis was also linked to long COVID, the study found.
Fox News’ Alexandria Hein contributed to this report.