Honduran expert: Pathology of coronavirus is unpredictable

By German Reyes

Tegucigalpa, Apr 23 (efe-epa).- The pathology of the novel coronavirus is unpredictable at present, an award-winning Honduran-British pharmacologist told Efe Thursday in an interview from London, noting the difficulty in knowing what impact it will have on an infected individual’s body.

Covid-19 also is a disease that causes more widespread damage than initially thought, affecting not only patients’ lungs but also their heart and kidneys, according to Salvador Moncada.

“We’re starting to become aware of basic information about the virus. It belongs to a family of viruses that is quite well-studied and has the characteristic of being able to jump from animal species to human beings. We already had several examples of that in the past,” he said.

Moncada added that severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) were two viruses that caused epidemics earlier this century and are from the same family as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the virus that causes Covid-19.

“This is different from those. It’s a very contagious virus. It’s a virus whose pathology is unpredictable at the moment, due to the difficulty in knowing how people will respond,” the 75-year-old expert said, adding that those contracting the virus can infect others for a few days before they experience any symptoms.

The most serious problem, he said, is that up to 40 percent of coronavirus carriers may never develop symptoms and can transmit the disease without ever knowing they had it.

Asked about how many organs the virus affects, Moncada said “the original idea was that it produced pneumonia … a severe lung inflammation that was what ended up causing death from lack of oxygenation.”

“But as we’re seeing more cases, we realize that the virus that enters the bloodstream causes more widespread damage, including to the kidneys and the heart,” he added.

That is possibly due to the fact the virus enters the body not only through the epithelia of the lungs, the internal covering membrane of the pulmonary structure, but also through the vascular endothelium, the thin inner layer of cells that line all blood vessels, Moncada said.

He added that the virus produces inflammation that damages the kidneys and the heart and creates multi-organ dysfunction that may play a key role in patient deaths.

Referring to the possibility that developed countries in Europe, Asia and the Americas can achieve their goal of eradicating Covid-19 this year, Moncada said “we have no idea because we still don’t know all the details about the virus’ behavior.”

“The only way to eradicate a disease like that is for all people to become infected, to become resistant to a second infection. And when you get to a certain number of people, the virus can’t continue to spread because there aren’t enough people for the infection to continue,” he said.

That is a natural way to control the pandemic, according to the expert, who said the other way is through the development of a vaccine.

The 1990 co-recipient of Spain’s Prince of Asturias Award for Technical and Scientific Research said several vaccine projects are already in the clinical trial phase, including ones in England, China and the United States.

But he cautioned that “we never know whether a vaccine is effectively going to work and is safe.”

If one is developed, that “will take a long time, months to produce sufficient doses to immunize hundreds of millions of people, which is what we need to do,” Moncada said, adding that subsequent outbreaks still could occur in different and unexpected places.

Moncada also referred to the potential for a large-scale health disaster in Latin American and other developing countries, warning of “very poor, or inexistent, health services.”

The expert said the lockdown measures adopted in most of the world have been necessary but that a follow-up testing program must be carried out to separate those infected with the disease from the non-infected so that thought can be given to the possibility of reopening economies.

“The problem in poor countries is that they have large populations of people who are destitute, who live day to day, who don’t have anywhere to shelter and who if they don’t do their daily work don’t eat that day. So (developed) countries should have support programs for people, especially in the food sector,” Moncada said. EFE-EPA

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