Covid-19 could cause lasting lung abnormalities - even in people with mild symptoms

Researchers have found that Covid-19 could be causing lung abnormalities which are still detectable more than three months after you’ve been infected.

A study, conducted at Oxford University, saw 10 patients scanned with a novel scanning technique in order to identify damage which isn’t picked up by conventional scans.

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This novel scanning technique uses a gas called Xenon during MRI scans, to create images of lung damage. This technique sees patients inhale the gas during an MRI scan.

Lung experts said that a test which could identify long term damage would make a huge difference to Covid-19 patients.

8 in 10 with found with lung damage

Professor Fergus Gleeson, who is leading the research, tried this technique on 10 patients aged between 19 and 69.

Of the 10 patients tested, eight of them had persistent shortness of breath, and also tiredness, three months after first being ill with Covid-19. None of these patients had been admitted to intensive care, nor did they require ventilation, and regular scans found no issue with their lungs.

The scans using the Xenon technique showed signs of lung damage by highlighting areas in the lungs where air was not flowing easily into the blood in the eight patients who reported feeling breathless.

Professor Gleeson said, “I was expecting some form of lung damage, but not to the degree that we have seen.”

Plans for a bigger study

As a result of these findings, Professor Gleeson now plans to conduct a trial of up to 100 patients to see if the same results can be found. He is planning on working with GPs to scan those who have tested positive for the virus across a range of age groups.

The aim of this study is to find out whether the lung damage occurs, and - if so - whether it is permanent or whether it resolves itself over time.

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The Professor believes that the lung damage found by the Xenon scans could be one of the factors behind long Covid, which sees people feeling unwell for several months after first contracting the virus.

‘Help understand Covid-19 lung disease’

The scanning technique was devised by a research group at the University of Sheffield, led by Professor James Wild.

Professor Wild said that the technique offered a “unique” way of highlighting lung damage caused by Covid-19, and its after effects.

He explained, “In other fibrotic lung diseases we have shown the methods to be very sensitive to this impairment, and we hope the work can help understand Covid-19 lung disease.”

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