COVID autopsies reveal virus spreads through ‘whole body’: ScienceAlert

COVID-19 is defined as a respiratory infection, but the effects of the new coronavirus are certainly not limited to a single organ.

Dozens of recent autopsies show lingering evidence of SARS-CoV-2 throughout the body, including lungs, heart, spleen, kidneys, liver, colon, chest, muscles, nerves , the reproductive system, the eye , and the brain.

In a particular autopsy, remnants of the novel coronavirus were found in the brain of a patient who died 230 days after he began showing symptoms.

“Our data indicate that in some patients, SARS-CoV-2 can cause systemic infection and persist in the body for months,” conclude the authors of the study, led by researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH ) the United States.

In the past, autopsies of those who have contracted COVID-19 have shown preliminary signs of multi-organ spread, with genetic remnants of the virus showing up in myriad tissues, organs and fluids.

In July 2020, further autopsies showed evidence of blood clots in nearly every vital organ of those who had contracted COVID-19.

New NIH research now replicates and confirms these findings in greater detail than ever before.

The researchers suggest that their most recent findings are the most comprehensive analysis to date on the cellular persistence of SARS-CoV-2 in the human body.

The study involved 44 autopsies, during which researchers carefully detected and quantified the level of SARS-CoV-2 messenger RNA in 85 locations and fluids. This genetic information indicates where the virus may have replicated during a person’s lifetime.

From autopsies performed from April 2020 to March 2021, researchers found that unvaccinated elderly people who died of COVID-19 had abundant signs of SARS-CoV-2 replication in a total of 79 sites and body fluids. .

Additionally, some of the changes appeared within two weeks of the onset of the first symptoms.

Interestingly, while the lungs showed the most inflammation and injury, the brain and other organs often did not show significant tissue changes “despite a large viral load.”

The authors don’t know why. It could be, for example, that the human immune system is not as good at targeting these other places as the lungs.

In later stages of COVID-19 recovery, researchers found evidence that the lungs were less infected than they were at the start, while other places didn’t show as much improvement.

“Our results show that although the highest burden of SARS-CoV-2 is in respiratory tissues, the virus can disseminate throughout the body,” the researchers conclude.

How the virus spreads so far is another mystery that needs to be solved. Autopsies in the present study did not often show detectable viral remnants in blood plasma, suggesting that the pathogen may travel by other means.

Understanding how SARS-CoV-2 spreads and persists in the human body could tell a lot about why some patients suffer from COVID-19 in the long term.

The NIH study did not specifically experiment with long-term COVID patients, but the results are relevant to possible treatment plans.

Antivirals, like Paxlovid, for example, could help the human immune system clear viral cells from tissues, organs and fluids that might otherwise be hard to reach.

Perhaps, in turn, this can help reduce lingering symptoms.

“We hope to replicate data on viral persistence and investigate the relationship to long COVID,” says one of the authors, Stephen Hewitt, of the National Cancer Institute.

“In less than a year, we have about 85 cases, and we are working to expand those efforts.”

The study was published in Nature.

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