Some scientists have begun exploring the possibility that coronavirus could be a type of disease impacting blood vessels. This finding comes after months of those who've contracted the virus experiences such a wide array of symptoms, from respiratory problems to strokes to discolored skin. William Li, MD, president of the Angiogenesis Foundation, spoke to Elemental about how this myriad of symptoms could all be tied to poor blood circulation.
"All these COVID-associated complications were a mystery. We see blood clotting, we see kidney damage, we see inflammation of the heart, we see stroke, we see encephalitis [brain swelling]," Li said. "A whole myriad of seemingly unconnected phenomena that you do not normally see with SARS or H1N1 or, frankly, most infectious diseases." Other noteworthy scientists agree with Li's hypothesis, which is supported by their studies of their own.
Dr. Mandeep Mehra, Medical Director of the Brigham and Women's Hospital Heart and Vascular Center agreed. "If you start to put all of the data together that's emerging, it turns out that this virus is probably a vasculotropic virus," they said, referring to a disease that affects blood vessels. "The concept that's emerging is that this is not a respiratory illness alone, this is a respiratory illness to start with, but it is actually a vascular illness that kills people through its involvement of the vasculature."
On May 2, Mehra and other scientists published their findings in Lancet, indicating that coronavirus infects the cells that line the inside of blood vessels. Known as endothelial cells, they protect the cardiovascular system through blood clotting and immune system response. Their findings also noted that those who'd contracted COVID-19 showed damage to those cells in several major organs, including the lungs, heart, liver, kidneys and intestines. When explaining how the virus works, Mehra explained that it "enters the lung, it destroys the lung tissue, and people start coughing."
"The destruction of the lung tissue breaks open some blood vessels," they continued. "Then it starts to infect endothelial cell after endothelial cell, creates a local immune response, and inflames the endothelium."
According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been nearly 6.3 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide, with almost 1.8 million in the U.S. as of Monday. The death toll stateside currently stands at nearly 374,000, with more than 104,000 deaths in the U.S. alone.