NASHVILLE, TN, (WSMV) – A coronavirus is a respiratory virus which means it attacks and reproduces inside of cells of the respiratory system.
Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s Dr. Todd Rice explains that a typical coronavirus would be in the upper airway like the nose or back of your mouth and throat but COVID-19 is different because it’s finding a home in your lower airway, which means it's sitting low in your lungs.
“So the virus kind of takes shape and attacks the cells of your lungs and it uses the cell to replicate and produce more virus particles and that ultimately damages the cells in your lungs. In addition to the body’s response to the virus, to try to get rid of the virus, also attacks the cells in your lungs which causes further damage of the cells in your lungs,” says Dr. Rice.
Those damaged cells can then end up in the air sacs of the lungs.
“Those air sacs don’t work very well if there is something in them other than air… The other thing that happens in the lungs is that when cells get damaged or lungs get damaged, fluid leaks into those spaces in the lungs and that fluid doesn’t allow air to pass in or air to pass out of the lung, air to cross into the blood from the lungs. And that’s what makes it hard to breathe.”
Take a look below at X-rays of the lungs. One is a normal, healthy lung. The other has COVID-19. Dr. Rice says the regular lung has lots of black space but the lungs positive for COVID-19 have lots of white. He says that’s the damage taking place.
So how do the lungs get back to normal and recover from COVID-19?
Dr. Rice says, “The lungs have processes in place that sort of filter that fluid back into the vessels, the blood vessels, and the lymph. That happens all the time to keep those air sacs dry. Eventually as the virus resolves and you kind of get over the illness, you stop producing a bunch of that fluid and debris and that process in the body starts working better again.”
Because there’s no exact treatment for the virus, supportive care is their best option, meaning putting people on ventilators and providing as much oxygen as possible. Rice maintains washing your hands and social distancing are the best things you can do to prevent the spread.
“Even people who seem normal and don’t necessarily seem that sick, can have the virus and pass it from one person to another person so you just can’t tell if you’re around somebody, close to them, if they might have it and you’re getting it from them.”