The novel coronavirus seems able to infiltrate just about every inch of the human body, from the brain to the heart and lungs, into the gut, and right down to the toes, causing a dizzying array of symptoms ranging from annoying to fatal. It’s a list that doctors expect to grow even longer.
“It’s been unprecedented in many ways,” says Robert Salata, MD, a professor of medicine in epidemiology and international health at Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University. “In terms of the complications we’re seeing, it’s incredible.”
Covid-19 is among the most dangerous and intractable new viral diseases seen in years, perhaps decades. It “can attack almost anything in the body with devastating consequences,” says Harlan Krumholz, MD, a cardiologist at Yale New Haven Hospital. “Its ferocity is breathtaking and humbling.”
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Severe cases often involve two phases, explains Mahalia Desruisseaux, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine focusing on infectious diseases at Yale University School of Medicine. As with the flu or other viral infections, Covid-19 typically subsides after several days, because the immune system mounts a response and neutralizes the virus, Desruisseaux says. But for some people, especially those over 65 and those with underlying health conditions and sometimes even in healthy adults and even children, a second phase kicks in.
Cells in key organs and entire body systems can become inflamed and damaged irreparably, and the risk of deadly blood clots skyrockets.
“The inflammatory response to the virus gets disproportionately exaggerated, triggering massive inflammation in several organs,” Desruisseaux says. “The flu-like viral illness seems to start to…