We’ve been hearing conflicting opinions on Covid-19 for months. Various politicians on both sides of the aisle have been comparing this new coronavirus either with the flu and the common cold or with some of the most disastrous plagues and wars in human history. In some cases, certain politicians have done both in the span of mere days.
With the total number of registered infected cases in the U.S. approaching 190,000 out of 861,000 worldwide as of the end of March, the recovery rate in the U.S. is still between the 3% and 4% threshold, meaning that there’s still a long way to go before we know just what the recovery/death statistics are going to be.
What we do know, however, is that people with underlying heart conditions are under much more risk of complications. Conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or even just high blood pressure have all been linked with almost all of the more hard-struck Covid-19 patients.
And because heart-related diseases have always been wide-spread in the U.S., the new coronavirus is affecting middle-aged and younger people in the country more disproportionally than expected. More than 18 million Americans age 20 or older have heart disease.
Dr. Clyde Yancy is Northwestern Medicine’s Chief of Cardiology has said that “The risk for getting the infection might not increase but if you have the infection, and underlying heart disease, the consequence is not only more serious, they can be dire,”
Dr. Yancy also added: “We have to be careful with the original language that suggests, ‘but this was a trivial illness for younger people.’ They can be carriers and can impact their older adult; parents and friends, grandparents. That’s a concern. But particularly if they are the ones who have underlying heart disease, and that includes high blood pressure or diabetes. Once this infection occurs, it could have grave consequences and unfortunately, we’re saying deaths of people in their 40s and 50s. It’s very chilling.”
The way the disease spreads is also relatively misunderstood. Most people view it as just an extra contagious flu but it turns out Covid-19 is more than that.
Both diseases infect people’s respiratory systems by entering their eyes, nose, or mouths. The infected droplets of moisture can either come in contact with us from the air if we just pass near an infected person, or we can infect ourselves if we’ve touched an infected area like a table or a door handle and then touch our face before washing our hands.
Once the virus gets in contact with our mouths, nose or eyes, it starts to multiply. Covid-19 can survive in the air or on surfaces for a while but it can’t procreate there – it only starts to do that once it has entered our bodies and has come in contact with the mucus membranes of our nose and throat.
The next stage of the disease is that it slowly starts making its way toward the victim’s lungs. As the virus itself isn’t mobile it relies on our breaths to slowly push it down our respiratory systems. Once the virus gets in contact with our lungs and starts replicating there, that’s when the infection kicks into high gear and becomes much more different and more dangerous than the flu.
While the flu often leads to bacterial pneumonia with an intense but single and localized infection in the victim’s lungs, Covid-19 quickly pervades the entire lungs of the victim and turns them grey and inflamed. The coronavirus infection works from the outer air sacs of the lungs (hence the change of color) and it quickly leads to the buildup of fluid, pus, and debris. This, in turn, leads to the development of Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).
And ARDS, unfortunately, is incurable. Doctors use medical ventilators to buy the victims’ immune systems some time, which is why you may have heard so much talk about ventilators in the news recently. The reason they are necessary is because patients start having problems breathing as ARDS progresses.
Even with the help of ventilators, however, and especially without them, the virus’s assault on the body tends to put a lot of strain on it and that’s where heart complications play their deadly role. Because the ARDS caused by a Covid-19 infection is so severe, many patients start developing heart failures. People with weak hearts are in the greatest danger but even something as simple as high blood pressure is a risky enough comorbidity.
All this is the reason why lots of medical professionals are begging people to practice social distancing and help them flatten the curve – because as the disease progresses through the victim’s body it becomes increasingly unmanageable. To survive, the infected person needs as much medical care and assistance as they can get, especially if they have a heart or blood pressure condition. Decreasing the number of people in need of medical assistance at any given time is essential for saving as many lives as possible.
“If we can practice these important public health measures, we really can help flatten the curve,” Dr. Yancy said. “People may tire of hearing this, but I am not going tire of saying it because I think the exposure here is to a very dark consequence.”