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article imageCoronavirus distribution and tissue damage in patients

By Tim Sandle     Mar 31, 2021 in Science
Researchers have mapped the distribution of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in deceased patients with the disease, and shed new light on how viral load relates to tissue damage.
For the study, conducted at Jena University Hospital, an examination and detailed mapping of the viral RNA in 61 tissues and organs taken from eleven deceased patients who had contracted COVID-19 was performed. The autopsies were carried out shortly after death (between 1.5 and 15 hours). The early stage examination was designed to minimize false results following tissue degradation.
The data showed that extremely high viral loads (above 10,000 copies per millilitre) were detected from the lungs. Furthermore, the presence of viral particles were shown as being present in lung tissue based on transmission electron microscopy. This method presents a powerful tool to find evidence of infection by a virus. However, care needs to be taken when interpreting cytoplasmic structures to correctly identify virus particles.
Furthermore, the researchers also observed that viral RNA could be detected throughout different extrapulmonary tissues and organs. While viral particles were discovered, there was no observed tissue damage.
The scientists also detected elevated levels of particular proteins associated with inflammation and blood clotting circulating in the bloodstream of the deceased subjects. The finding indicates that the inflammation caused initiated by SARS-CoV-2 results in an excessive immune reaction throughout the entire human body.
The data indicated that the coronavirus is capable of triggering multiorgan dysfunction in patients. This means that COVID-19 is a systemic disease. By this, the virus appears to move through entire body. Earlier research saw the coronavirus as infecting just a single organ like the lungs.
Key observations included vascular dysfunction, such as thrombosis and/or impaired microcirculation.
The new research offers some insights as to how the virus proceeds to infect the body and the typical order this takes. To assess the impact upon different organs in the body, the researchers took in excess of 60 samples per patient.
The research is titled 'Early postmortem mapping of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in patients with COVID-19 and the correlation with tissue damage' and it is published in the journal eLife.
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