COVID Day 80: The Curious Case of a Chinese Virus that Causes Blood Disease

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From the start of the COVID crisis we’ve heard repeatedly that people with preexisting conditions were the most vulnerable, a demographic that includes the elderly, obese, diabetic, and smokers. Coronaviruses are respiratory, which means they attack the lungs so people with preexisting conditions have weakened respiratory systems. One thing that’s never been clear to me is how obesity or diabetes leads to weak lungs.

There may now be an explanation. Frank Ruschitzka, who leads the cardiology department at University Hospital Zürich, noticed in March that COVID patients have strange symptoms for a respiratory infection. Many patients have acute kidney failure, organ damage, and mysterious blood clots. During autopsies, Ruschitzka found blood clots in lungs and distended (i.e., swollen) blood vessels supplying every bodily organ.

A pattern that’s emerged is patients initially get COVID and recover from the respiratory effects then subsequently die from issues related to vascular complications. Forty percent of COVID deaths are related to cardiovascular complications. Cardiovascular disease effects the heart as 1) coronary artery disease; a narrowing of the arteries that cause heart attacks, abnormal heart rhythms, and heart failure, 2) heart valve disease, 3) congenital heart disease and 4) heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy). Stroke is another cardiovascular disease caused by the blood vessels. This includes when blood vessels feeding the brain get blocked by a clot (ischemic stroke), or when blood vessels within the brain burst usually due to high blood pressure (hemorrhagic stroke).

Peter Carmeliet, a vascular biologist at the Belgian research institute VIB, explains that a COVID infection causes blood vessels to leak and blood to clot. That in turn sparks inflammation throughout the body and fuels acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). The blood vessel leaking is more acute in obese or diabetic people because their blood vessels are already compromised.

William Li, MD, president of the Angiogenesis Foundation, noted that “All these COVID-associated complications were a mystery. We see blood clotting, we see kidney damage, we see inflammation of the heart, we see stroke, we see encephalitis [swelling of the brain], a whole myriad of seemingly unconnected phenomena that you do not normally see with SARS or H1N1 or, frankly, most infectious diseases.” Thirty percent of seriously ill COVID patents developed blood clots that could not be eliminated with common blood thinners.

COVID toe has been described as an indicator a person has the coronavirus, but is not listed as a CDC symptom. Doctors are now however, looking at COVID toe as a sign of vascular compromise. CVOID toe appears as red lesions on the toes that are painful to touch. This condition has mostly been observed in younger patients before typical COVID symptoms emerge, with most recovering.

What’s both interesting and alarming about this latest development is that most respiratory viruses don’t leave the lungs. For COVID-19 to move from a respiratory aliment to a vascular one is significant, which is why I remain convinced COVID-19 was engineered by the Chinese to maximize lethality.