Bacteria or viruses like influenza that cause pneumonia can spread across large regions of the lung within hours. In the modern intensive care unit, these bacteria or viruses are usually controlled either by antibiotics or by the body’s immune system within the first few days of the illness. But in a study published in Nature on January 11, 2021, investigators at Northwestern Medicine show COVID-19 pneumonia is different.
Instead of rapidly infecting large regions of the lung, the virus causing COVID-19 sets up shop in multiple small areas of the lung. It then hijacks the lungs’ own immune cells and uses them to spread across the lung over a period of many days or even weeks, like multiple wildfires spreading across a forest. As the infection slowly moves across the lung, it leaves damage in its wake and continuously fuels the fever, low blood pressure, and damage to the kidneys, brain, heart, and other organs in patients with COVID-19.
The complex nature of the study, in which samples from patients were analyzed with the most sophisticated technologies available in Northwestern’s state-of-the-art research labs, required the concerted effort of more than 100 researchers. The information is fascinating, and it just reinforces the importance of preventing the spread of COVID-19! Stay the course, stay well, mask up, get vaccinated, and stay tuned!