Dr Mark Rosenthal

MD MB ChB FRCP FRCPCH BSc

Consultant in Paediatric Respiratory Medicine

also specialist in Food Allergies & Disorders of Sleep

A | A | A

T: 0207 351 8832

E: s.harvey@rbht.nhs.uk

A:The Royal Brompton Hospital, London, SW3 6NP

The current strain of coronavirus (Covid-19) was first discovered in Wuhan, China towards the end of 2019. Since then, many thousands of people across the world have caught the virus, and Scientists have been carefully observing common symptoms and how the virus can impact the respiratory and immune system, to better understand its exact pathology.

Coronavirus & Your Respiratory System

Coronaviruses can cause disease in both animals and humans, and previous outbreaks in the human population include SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Disorder), and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome).

All of these outbreaks, including the current outbreak, have been associated with some degree of respiratory disorder.

 Covid-19 Symptoms

Common symptoms experienced by those infected with (Covid-19):

  • Fever
  • A dry or persistent cough
  • Fatigue
  • Nasal congestion
  • Other cold-like symptoms
  • Aches and pains
  • Diarrhoea (rare)

Some people are asymptomatic, meaning they experience no symptoms of coronavirus, however others can experience a more severe infection, suffer with breathing difficulties and they may need to be hospitalised for breathing support.

 How does it spread?

The virus can spread from person to person, as it is contagious. When someone coughs, sneezes or exhales, small droplets will leave them and can transfer the virus through the air to another person who breathes these droplets in, or to nearby surfaces. If another person then touches this surface, and subsequently touches their eyes, nose or mouth, they too can become infected.

 So how exactly does it affect the lungs?

Scientists initially identified Covid-19 after there were a number of pneumonia cases clustered together in a short period late last year in Wuhan. From here they discovered that these people had contracted the virus, which can develop into more serious illnesses.

Coronavirus can do damage to particular cells in your air passages, and as a result these passages can get injured. The body naturally replenishes its own cells, however problems can arise when the lining of your airway gets damaged, and as a result you get inflammation.

The nerves which line your airway become much more sensitive to foreign materials, such as specks of dust, and so anything which irritates them will bring on a cough.

If the inflammation travels down your respiratory tree, towards the end of the passages where gas exchange takes place, then inflammatory fluid can be released into air spaces that lie within the bottom of your lungs.

This is how patients who initially are infected with the coronavirus can develop pneumonia, and their ability to take in enough oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide from their body is impaired. To get enough oxygen into their bloodstream, some patients may need to be given oxygen in a hospital or use a ventilator to support their breathing if it becomes severe.

What can I do to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus?

As outlined by the World Health Organisation, it is important to look after your hygiene and wash hands regularly, either with soap and water or an alcohol based hand gel (recommended to be above 60% alcohol content). Social distancing will reduce the chance of catching the virus via infected droplets, and avoiding touching your nose, eyes and mouth, particularly in a public space, is advised. Further advise can be found on the WHO website.

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