A massive new study published earlier this week seems to finally confirm the previous theories that COVID-19 is able to infect many different parts of the body instead of just the respiratory system.
Another discovery part of the same research was that the virus is also able to sometimes linger in the human body for a long time even after the patient’s symptoms no longer manifest themselves.
The new study might finally clear some things up as far as the so-called “long COVID” situation is concerned.
As you may or may not know, “long COVID” is a rather complex chronic condition that some former patients experience after surviving the virus.
There is no secret that SARS-CoV-2 is, first and foremost, a respiratory virus very similar to influenza or the other human coronaviruses.
In some milder cases, the acute symptoms experienced generally involve the upper respiratory tract while in more serious cases, patients can develop complications such as pneumonia and lung infections.
However, based on new lab evidence, the virus is actually able to travel all throughout the body, infecting other tissues as well because of the receptors that it uses to grab onto human cells.
For instance, not too long ago, some researchers found significant evidence that the coronavirus can directly infect fat as well as immune cells.
The team behind this research, most of the members from the National Institutes of Health, stated that their new findings are the most extensive look into how coronavirus can infect other parts of the human body, including the brain!
But how did they learn this? Well, the researchers involved in the study did 44 autopsies on victims of COVID and in all but 5 cases, the infection was directly responsible for the deaths.
Furthermore, the team also found plenty of coronavirus signs outside the respiratory tract be it early or late into the infection.
It has to be mentioned, however, that the virus was mostly present in the lungs and airways.
At the same time, the team of researchers also found evidence of infection in the cardiovascular tissue of almost 80 percent of the victims.
The same was the case with the gastrointestinal tissue of 73 percent of them, and in 68 percent of cases, it was also found in the skin, muscle, fat and in the peripheral nervous tissue.
And that is not even all! Across all of the 85 different body parts and fluids studied, the researchers were able to find the virus in at least 79 of them and that included the brain!
It has to be noted that these traces of the virus could be found months after the patients had started to experience symptoms of a positive infection with COVID.
In one case, it was no less than 230 days later!
The authors wrote in their paper that “Our data prove that SARS-CoV-2 causes systemic infection and can persist in the body for months.”
The research has been released as a preprint late last week for publication in the journal Nature, as per Bloomberg News, in case you want to find out more about this topic – straight from the source.
At the same time, keep in mind that there are still some significant limitations for this new study.
First of all, the cases mainly featured patients severely affected by COVID, of course, given the fact that they had lost their lives as a result.
However, the authors stressed that even in the few cases where some of the victims had very mild symptoms or were asymptomatic, there were still traces of the virus all throughout their bodies.
Another limitation to take into consideration is the fact that the research was conducted between April of last year and March of this year, which is a period of time where not many people had been vaccinated.
This means that there is a possibility people with some immunity from getting inoculated, could prevent COVID from spreading all throughout their bodies.
After all, the paper does not mention there was even one person vaccinated included in the research.
Not to mention that the emergence of some new variants such as Delta and Omicron since March of 2021, might also complicate the situation and make the findings a bit outdated already.
With all of that being said, however, there is no doubt that the findings can still offer us all a much clearer picture of how severe infections with COVID can continue to negatively affect people long after the initial infection had been defeated.
Some specialists in the field think that at least a percentage of long COVID cases can be linked to persistent infection.
In the end, while these findings are able to prove long term infections are indeed a reality, they also come with their own set of new questions.
For example, the researchers were not able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the virus being outside the lungs was indeed associated with direct inflammation or other virus-caused injuries to victims’ cells, even in the most persistent of infections.
This detail is really important as inflammation is one of the most common ways in which the human body can chronically damage itself.
Furthermore, many experts are now convinced that inflammation also plays a huge role in the symptoms of long COVID.
The authors of the paper noted that in some persistent infection cases, the virus might have been way too defective to continue replicating and evolving, which could explain the reason why the body did not actually respond to it like to any other typical infection.
While this does not completely exclude the possibility that the virus could still harm the patient while lingering in the body, it still brings forth a new mystery related to long COVID that researchers need to look further into in order to properly decipher.