As if images of overflowing morgues and worldwide human suffering weren’t hellish enough, doctors are now offering yet another horrifying visual of coronavirus’ path of destruction.
A thick layer of paint-like mucus coats the lungs of COVID-19 patients, gradually cutting off oxygen. The gruesome discovery, which was revealed in two autopsies of coronavirus patients, was published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology.
“The upper and lower airways were . . . lined by a smooth, glistening, pale cream-colored mucosa,” the authors, doctors from Cleveland Clinic, wrote in the study.
Doctors in Oklahoma examined two men who tested positive for coronavirus after they died. One was a 77-year-old man who had symptoms for seven days, but never got treatment or an official diagnosis before he died. Since he passed away without receiving the help of a ventilator, the researchers were able to see what happens when the virus goes unchecked.
They discovered that the slime-like substance in the lung’s air sacs had caused major inflammation in his airways.
“That’s why they can’t breathe because it’s very difficult to get oxygen through those thick walls,” Dr. Sanjay Mukhopadhyay, director of pulmonary pathology at the Cleveland Clinic, told Cleveland19.com.
The other patient, a 42-year-old obese man with pre-existing conditions, also tested positive for COVID-19 after he died. However, doctors found that he actually died of bacterial pneumonia — not from the coronavirus itself. He didn’t have the paint-like coating in his lungs.
The two autopsies were carefully performed by doctors wearing N95 masks, gloves, gowns and other protective gear. The doctors’ study was the first peer-reviewed autopsy report on COVID-19 patients.
In addition to finding the mucus, what they didn’t find was also of note: Doctors have wondered whether the coronavirus causes heart inflammation — but neither of the cases showed that. Experts have also theorized that the virus could cause blood clots. However, there wasn’t evidence of that either.
More autopsies like this one could provide “insights into what is potentially going on in the lungs that is reversible,” Mukhopadhyay said. “Is there anything there that can be treated? Is there anything there that you can use a drug to target?”
Unfortunately, for right now, the answer is no.
“There’s no specific drug that can make that reverse, so you really need to treat the virus if you can,” Mukhopadhyay said. “We don’t have a good antiviral drug so far, but when we get one, that will be the way to treat that.”
The discovery is the latest in a quickly moving race to learn more about the disease — including its cure. Most recently, scientists say they have discovered the first evidence of a “significant” mutation of the coronavirus — raising concerns that strides made toward a vaccine so far could become “futile.”