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Increased viral load in lungs behind COVID-19 deaths – Study

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On average, patients who died had 10 times the amount of virus in their lower airways than those who survived their illness.

The study was published online on August 31 in the journal Nature Microbiology.

The findings challenge previous theories that simultaneous infections such as pneumonia or an overreaction of the body’s immune system are significant factors in COVID-19 deaths, the researchers noted.

“Our findings suggest that the body’s failure to cope with the large numbers of virus infecting the lungs is largely responsible for COVID-19 deaths in the pandemic,” said lead study author Dr. Imran Sulaiman, an adjunct professor in NYU Langone Health’s department of medicine.

There was no evidence of secondary bacterial infection as the cause of the deaths, but this may be because the patients received large amounts of antibiotics, said the authors.

Guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not encourage giving antivirals such as remdesivir to severely ill COVID-19 patients on mechanical ventilation, but these findings suggest these medications may actually benefit these patients, Sulaiman said in an NYU Langone news release.

According to study senior author Dr. Leopoldo Segal, an associate professor in NYU Langone’s department of medicine, “These results suggest that a problem with the adaptive immune system is preventing it from effectively combating the coronavirus. If we can identify the source of this issue, we may be able to find an effective treatment that works by bolstering the body’s own defenses.”

Segal noted that the study only included patients who survived their first two weeks of hospitalization, so it’s possible that bacterial infections or autoimmune reactions may play a greater role in COVID-19 deaths that occur earlier.

The death rate for US COVID-19 patients who have to be put on mechanical respirators is about 70%.


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