Written By John Ferrari
COVID-19 is a chameleon of a disease. It can cause symptoms similar to
the common cold, the flu or pneumonia, or symptoms unlike those diseases.
It can give some people only mild symptoms – or no symptoms at all
– while sending others into acute distress requiring hospitalization.
It can clear up in less than two weeks or linger for a month. All which
may make you wonder, what can it do to me? Advantage asked Dr. Richard
Huynh, a Torrance Memorial Physician Network physician specializing in
critical care and pulmonary disease, to explain how SARS-CoV-2 –
the virus that causes COVID-19 – affects your body.
Q: With such variation in how the virus affects individuals, what is characteristic
A: It’s an illness spread through the respiratory tract, but it’s
also one we’ve seen affects individuals in many different ways,
including cardiovascular. It can cause a profound inflammatory response.
Q: When someone has been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, how does it affect the body?
A: There are hundreds of viruses that cause disease in humans. You can
get a virus in a number of different ways and they can affect you in a
number of different ways. Like other viruses, there are a number of phases
in how it affects you.
Once the virus enters your body, what happens depends on the viral load
– how much of the virus you have – and your immune response.
In patients with a high viral load and a low immune response, the SARS-CoV-2
virus has a propensity for binding to cells deep down in your respiratory
tract. There’s a cough, mucus response and other symptoms. Meanwhile,
the virus is busy making new copies of itself. That’s the first phase.
Once the viral replication phase completes, in many individuals it goes
into the inflammatory phase, and in the most serious cases it can cause
Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome, when fluid builds up in the lungs’
air sacs. During this phase is where we see it enter the cardiovascular
system. Usually patients are in the hospital by this point.
Q: How does the virus affect the cardiovascular system?
A: It can affect your blood circulation. As your blood flows through your
body, it has to be able to flow freely through the vascular system. At
the same time, blood needs to be able to clot to plug holes, like when
you get a cut. When you are in an inflammatory state, your body has a
propensity to create microthyromboids – small clots that can affect
blood flow in really any system, like your lungs, heart, brain or coronary
arteries. At this point, the virus itself may even be gone, but the body
is still responding to it. I should say this occurs in severe cases of
COVID-19, not in every case.
Q: What puts individuals at higher risk for a severe case of COVID-19?
A: Much like many other viruses, if you already have a chronic condition
that is going to be detrimental. That’s why patients with underlying
conditions are at higher risk. These include chronic lung conditions,
diabetes and obesity. Those comorbidities really stand out as important
Q: Has treatment for COVID-19 evolved as medical professionals have learned
more about it?
A: Yes. Not just within a single hospital, but between hospitals and even
worldwide we’ve been sharing information with each other. There
are changes in terms of guidelines and approaches. We’re making
changes on a day-to-day basis, not week-to-week or month-to-month. We’re
still learning a lot about the management of this disease.
Q: Can anyone help control the spread of COVID-19?
A: Yes! We have to thank the public for helping us suppress the curve and
not being as overwhelmed as we were initially. We’re very appreciative
of the public for taking action. It’s a lot easier when you have
less patients with this disease and can focus on them. I know how difficult
it is to be confined and quarantined… it’s not easy.
Q: We’ve been told to wear masks to keep from spreading the SARS-CoV-2
virus to others in case we have been infected with the virus but aren’t
feeling any symptoms. Do masks also protect us from other people with
the virus, too?
A: My personal opinion is it works for both. By wearing a mask you’re
protecting those around you. We know that definitively. The mask will
give you some level of protection as well. Doctors know masks work. We
work in hospitals where we take care of patients, and when we’re
wearing masks, it protects us as well as the patients. Wearing a mask
has protected me.
Q: Is there anything else people can do to stay healthy and avoid getting
a bad case of COVID-19?
A: We say people should only go out for essential activities, especially
people with chronic diseases. But essential activities include things
beneficial to our health, like visiting your doctor and dentist, exercising,
etc. Keep yourself well-maintained, eat a healthy diet and address your
mental health. Those are things you need to continue doing so your body
is prepared in case you do get this disease.
Richard Huynh, MD, practices at the Torrance Memorial Physician Network Pulmonary and Sleep
Medicine office at 2841 Lomita Blvd, Ste. 235 in Torrance. He can be reached
at (310) 517-8950.