Authors: Carolyn Crist
As researchers learn more about COVID-19, they’ve seen reports from patients about unusual rashes, blood clots, and strokes, which could all be linked to damaged blood vessels.
Scientists are now looking at the vascular system, which includes arteries, veins, and capillaries, to monitor the various ways that the coronavirus attacks the body, according to NPR.
In particular, they’ve found that the virus seems to attack the endothelium, or the single layer of cells that line the inside of blood vessels. These cells prevent clotting, control blood pressure, and protect the body from invading pathogens.
“When the virus damages the inside of the blood vessel and shreds the lining, that’s like the ice after a hockey game,” William Li, a vascular biologist at the Angiogenesis Foundation, told NPR.
Li and a group of international researchers published a study this July that found lung tissue damage in COVID-19 patients. As compared with patients who died from the flu, the lung tissue of coronavirus patients had nine times as many small blood clots. They also saw what’s classified as “severe endothelial injury.”
“The surprise was that this respiratory virus makes a beeline for the cells lining blood vessels, filling them up like a gumball machine and shredding the cell from the inside out,” Li says. “We found blood vessels are blocked and blood clots are forming because of that lining damage.”