An international team of researchers say that the coronavirus doesn't just attack lungs — it also assaults blood vessels throughout the body.
"This virus does not only attack the lungs, it attacks the vessels everywhere," University Hospital Zurich researcher Frank Ruschitzka, who worked on the research, told the South China Morning Post. "It enters the endothelium, which is the defense line of the blood vessels. So it brings your own defense down and causes problems in microcirculation."
The finding, published this week in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet, could explain why patients with conditions that affect their blood vessels — like high blood pressure, hypertension and heart disease — are in more danger from the COVID than the rest of the population.
"From what we do see clinically, patients have problems in all organs — in the heart, kidney, intestine, everywhere," Ruschitzska told SCMP.
Ruschitzska's team used an electron microscope to examine the blood vessel cells of COVID patients, where they found signs of damage.
According to the study, that's likely because the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, attacks the ACE2 receptor, which is an enzyme in the cells of the lungs and many other organs in the human body including the arteries, kidneys and heart.
Ruschitzka told SCMP that he's hopeful for the prospects of ACE2 inhibitors and anti-inflammatory drugs, which he suspects could make the lining of the blood vessels more resilient to the virus.
In an interview with SCMP, though, University of Hong Kong professor of pathology John Nicholls expressed caution about the findings.
"While many structures may seem to resemble viral particles using the electron microscope, other laboratory techniques should be done to confirm true viral infection," Nicholls told the newspaper.