More than pneumonia, COVID-19 is a systemic vascular inflammation, according to a study by researchers from Zurich. This explains why it causes so many cardiovascular problems and vital organ failures.
The first patients had mostly hard-to-treat pneumonia, the University Hospital Zurich (UZH) said in a statement. Then, doctors later found more and more cases of cardiovascular disease and multiple organ failure with no apparent connection to pneumonia.
Zsuzsanna Varga’s team at UZH therefore examined tissue samples from deceased patients under a microscope and found that the inflammation affected the endothelium, the inner lining of blood vessels of various organs.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus has been detected in the endothelium itself, where it kills the cells, then the affected tissues and organs. Researchers deduce that the virus attacks the immune system not by the lungs, but directly by the ACE2 receptors present in the endothelium, which thus loses its protective function.
“COVID-19 can affect the blood vessels of all organs,” says Frank Ruschitzka, director of the UZH Cardiology Clinic, who now suggests calling this clinical picture “COVID-endothelitis.”
It is a systemic inflammation of the blood vessels that can affect the heart, brain, lungs, kidneys or even the digestive tract. It causes serious micro-disturbances in blood circulation that can damage the heart or cause pulmonary embolism, or even block blood vessels in the brain or the gastrointestinal system, says the UZH.