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Coronaviurus: What Is Covid-19 Pneumonia? How Does It Affect The Lungs?

| Reviewed By Arya Krishnan

As of today, there are 788,039 coronavirus cases with 37,877 deaths. On a hopeful note, 166,411 have recovered. The virus outbreak that began in 2019 continues to cause casualties, while health experts around the globe are extensively working on developing a vaccine and simpler test kits.

The virus affects the respiratory tract of a person and the infected fluid in the tract gets transmitted to other people during coughing or sneezing [1]. The pandemic, in most people, shows only mild, cold-like symptoms - making the diagnosis a bit difficult.

According to the reports by the World Health Organization, about 80 per cent of people with the virus infection recover without needing any special treatment, where only one person in six becomes seriously ill and develops respiratory problems [2].


Covid-19 Positive People Categorised Into Four Groups

The first category is people who are sub-clinical, that is they have the virus but have no symptoms. The next is people who get an infection in the upper respiratory tract and has a fever and a cough and maybe milder symptoms like sore throat or headache; these individuals are still able to transmit the virus but may not be aware of it [3].

The third and the largest group are people who get admitted to hospitals develop the same flu-like symptoms that would usually keep them off work, and the fourth group of individuals are ones who develop severe illness that features pneumonia [4].

Also, elderly and people with underlying problems like high blood pressure, heart and lung problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop a serious illness due to the virus infection [5].


Coronavirus Affects The Lungs, Causing Pneumonia

When an individual gets affected by the virus, they develop a cough and fever, as the infection has reached the respiratory tree, the air passages that conduct air between the lungs and the outside [6]. The infection then injures the lining of the respiratory tree, leading to inflammation which in turn irritates the nerves in the lining of the airway, causing constant coughing [7][8].

The infection, when worsened goes past just the lining of the airway and goes to the gas exchange units and infects the air passages, which then responds by pouring out inflammatory material into the air sacs that are at the bottom of our lungs [9].

This causes the air sacs to become inflamed, leading to the outpouring of inflammatory materials such as fluid and inflammatory cells into the lungs, developing pneumonia [10]. Consequently, lungs that are filled with inflammatory material become unable to get enough oxygen to the bloodstream and hence reduces the body's ability to take on oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide - the usual cause of death with severe pneumonia [11][12].


Covid-19 Pneumonia Treatments Being Developed, Still In Early Stages

According to reports, currently, there are no measures or medicines that can stop people from getting Covid-19 pneumonia.

"People are already trialling all sorts of medications and we're hopeful that we might discover that there are various combinations of different anti-viral medications that could be effective. At the moment there isn't any established treatment apart from supportive treatment, which is what we give people in intensive care. We ventilate them and maintain high oxygen levels until their lungs are able to function in a normal way again as they recover," said the doctors involved in the study [13].


Pneumonia Poses Risk Of Secondary Infections

The reports further stated that one of the major issues faced by the trials and studies is that patients with viral pneumonia are also at risk of developing secondary infections, requiring the need for the people to be treated with anti-viral medication and antibiotics [14]. However, that has not yielded success in every case.

"In some situations that isn't enough. Pneumonia went unabated and the patients did not survive," added the experts.


Covid-19 Pneumonia Severe Than Common Pneumonia

The report also added the point that Covid-19 pneumonia is different from the most common cases, where they added that, "Most types of pneumonia that we know of and that we admit people to hospital for are bacterial and they respond to an antibiotic."

There is evidence indicating that pneumonia caused by Covid-19 may be particularly severe as it affects all of the lungs, instead of just small parts.


Diabetics, Smokers, Elderly At Increased Risk Of Covid-19 Pneumonia

People with underlying heart and lung conditions, diabetes and the elderly (people aged 65 and over) are at risk of getting pneumonia, as well as people with medical conditions such as cancer or chronic disease affecting the lungs, heart, kidney or liver, smokers, Indigenous Australians, and infants aged 12 months and under.

With age being a central predictor of the risk of death from pneumonia, it is important to remember that irrespective of your health and physical wellness, your risk of getting pneumonia increases with age as the immune system naturally weakens with age, making it harder for our bodies to fight off infections and diseases[15][16].

Arya KrishnanEmergency Medicine
Arya Krishnan
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