Unless you have been living under a rock, or the Big Brother house in Germany, you would know that a Coronavirus, also more formally known as COVID-19, has engulfed the world in fear. At the time of writing (9pm, 20/03/2020) there were 250,613 cases of COVID-19, 89,044 recoveries and 10,254 deaths worldwide (check out this link for the current numbers as they are changing by the second). In this article, I want to explore how this disease takes lives, not push the fear, so let me give you some reassuring facts.
According to WHO, 80% of cases of COVID-19 are mild and not usually life threatening to those who are not immunocompromised (have HIV/AIDS, Auto-immune disease, diabetes, heart/lung disease or other respiratory issues).
Only roughly 6% of cases require intensive care, most require no medication intervention.
Isolation is important as a method of reducing the risk for others in the community, more about the group and less about the individual as the vast majority of deaths occur in those over the age of 60.
As shown in the numbers above, roughly 90% of closed cases of COVID-19 end in recovery. 95% of active cases are mild in nature.
While this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be careful, good hygiene practices and social distancing are important to stopping the spread, that does leave the approx. 10% of closed cases that end in death. So how do you die from COVID-19?
Lungs the Word
Shortly after a number of pneumonia cases with an unknown cause were reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan, the world was alerted to a newly described virus; severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, or Sars-CoV-2 (illness: COVID-19). This highly contagious disease seemed to be travelling rapidly throughout the world, as if the virus had planned a really dope overseas gap-year.
For the most part, COVID-19 is like a cold or flu, with symptoms such as a runny nose, dry cough, fever and fatigue. But for the unfortunate few, the disease begins to make breathing difficult and can develop into severe pneumonia.
The cough and fever comes when the virus reaches a persons respiratory/bronchial tree (the collective term for the multiple-branched bronchi that conduct air between your lungs and the environment). The lining of the tree can become injured which leads to inflammation. If this progresses into the gas exchange units within the air passages of the respiratory tree, they can become infected and begin to produce inflammatory material that settle in the air sacs at the bottom of the lung. The proceeding inflammation of the air sacs causes fluid and inflammatory cells to get into the lungs. This infection of the lung is pneumonia. Lungs affected by pneumonia struggle to get enough oxygen into the bloodstream and expel carbon dioxide.
How is this pneumonia different to what we’re used to?
The usual pneumonia you hear about can still be deadly for elderly or immunocompromised folk (with one of the biggest killers of the elderly being pneumonia), however it tends to be of the bacterial nature and responds to treatment by antibiotics. As well as this, pneumonia is usually present in part of the lung, whereas COVID-19 appears to infect the entire lung. The number one cause of death in COVID-19 cases is from this severe pneumonia.
The odd thing about COVID-19 and it’s special kind of pneumonia, is that it doesn’t appear to have the same affect on children as it does on adults. Whilst pneumonia is a big killer of children under 2, these same children fall into the low risk category when it comes to COVID-19 infection. As we don’t entirely understand the disease just yet, it may be some time before we find out why.
But how do you die from COVID-19?
Lack of oxygen to your blood means lack of oxygen to your organs, so as you’re struggling to breath due to respiratory issues, your organs begin to fail. Namely your liver and kidneys. You can also go into septic shock due to the infection. Septic shock is caused by organ failure and extreme infection, leading to life-threateningly low blood pressure.
But COVID-19 is not the only thing that can lead to sepsis and organ failure. Even the common flu can lead to severe organ damage in some people.
The important thing to remember during the pandemic is to practice good hygiene, wash your hands and avoid touching your face. Practice social distancing and remember that you may not be in the high risk category, but for other peoples safety it’s important to take it seriously. Don’t panic, but do what you can to help prevent the spread of the virus. COVID-19 is not a nice way to go.