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(The Hill) – Data from a new study suggests that the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can linger in different parts of the body for months after infection, including the heart and brain.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found that the virus can spread widely from the respiratory tract to almost every other organ in the body and persist for months.
The researchers described the study as “the most comprehensive analysis to date” of the persistence of the virus throughout the body and brain. They performed autopsies on 44 patients who died of or with COVID-19 to map and quantify the distribution of the virus in the body.
Daniel Chertow, a senior researcher in the Emerging Pathogens Section of the NIH, said with his colleagues that RNA for the virus has been found in patients up to 230 days after the onset of symptoms.
The findings, published online Saturday in a pre-printed manuscript, shed new light on patients suffering from what’s called the “long COVID-19.”
The study found that the virus had replicated in several organ systems, even in patients with asymptomatic to mild COVID-19.
The virus was detected in 44 cases and in 79 of 85 anatomical locations and body fluids sampled.
While the “greatest burden” of infection was in the lungs and respiratory tract, the study showed that the virus can “spread early in the course of infection and infect cells throughout the body.” , including in the brain, as well as in eye tissue, muscle, skin, peripheral nerves, and tissues of the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, endocrine and lymphatic systems.
“Our data support an early viraemic phase, which sows the virus throughout the body after a lung infection,” the researchers wrote.
The implications of a long COVID-19 are still not fully understood, although the problem is likely to persist for years.
For example, it is still unclear what problems, if any, fully vaccinated people will have if they are infected. The study was conducted on the bodies of people who died in the first year of the pandemic before vaccines were available.
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