What is COVID-19?

In December 2019, Wuhan City (Hubei Province, China) reported a cluster of patients with fever and cough. Scientists isolated a novel strain of coronavirus (SARS-coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2)) as the cause. The lung infection caused by SARS-CoV-2 was named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Why do people with COVID-19 find it hard to breathe?

COVID-19 is mainly an illness of the lungs. Although most patients have a mild illness, up to 30% of patients can develop severe shortness of breath requiring hospital admission. This is because the coronavirus attacks the air-sacs (alveoli) in the lungs which then leads to a severe inflammatory reaction that fills the alveoli. This blocks the alveoli making it much harder to transfer oxygen into the blood flowing in the lungs.

Can COVID-19 really cause the lungs to develop blood clots?

COVID-19 is a novel, unusual illness about which we are learning every day. Up to one third of patients presenting to hospital with coronavirus can have a blood clot in their lungs, making it even harder to breathe than simply having the lung infection in isolation. It is often important to exclude a blood clot in such patients with a special lung CT scan called a CT pulmonary angiogram (CTPA). This special lung CT scan can not only detect abnormal lung appearances but is also able to identify any clots in the blood vessels of the lungs. A chest radiologist would be responsible for making an accurate diagnosis by closely looking at the CTPA images.

Does COVID-19 cause any long-term lung damage?

As COVID-19 is a new illness we are still learning about it. Many patients who were unwell enough to be admitted to hospital may require follow up after recovering from the initial phase of the infection. This is because there is a feeling that COVID-19 can reduce lung function through leaving scarring in the lungs. This can often be detected on a chest Xray, but a high-resolution CT scan (HRCT) may be required for a more accurate assessment. A chest radiologist with special expertise in COVID-19 would be best placed to interpret and diagnose this type of scan.

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