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Can COVID research help solve the mysteries of other viruses?

Written by Gina Kolata

Barie Carmichael misplaced her sense of style and odor whereas touring in Europe. She remembers preserving a dinner date at a Michelin-starred restaurant however tasting nothing. “I didn’t have the guts to inform my host,” she mentioned.

It could sound like a case of COVID-19. However Carmichael, 72, a fellow on the College of Virginia’s enterprise faculty, misplaced her means to style and odor for 3 years within the 1990s. The one respiratory an infection she’d had was bronchitis.

Medical scientists say that though the problems of COVID have riveted peoples’ consideration, many signs — like a lack of odor — are usually not distinctive to COVID. Coronary heart irritation, lung and nerve injury and small blood clots within the lining of lungs happen in a small however noticeable proportion of sufferers who’ve had different respiratory and viral infections. And these sufferers, too, can have their very own model of “lengthy COVID.”

Nobody is saying COVID is the equal of, say, the flu that circulates every year. The same old seasonal flu has not killed tens of millions worldwide in a single 12 months, and greater than half one million People, whereas upending society and ravaging economies. However COVID-19 is offering a brand new alternative to grasp the problems of many frequent viral infections.

Earlier than the pandemic, analysis grants to review a lack of odor had been onerous to return by, mentioned Danielle Reed, affiliate director of the Monell Chemical Senses Heart, a nonprofit analysis group in Philadelphia.

“It appeared like no person cared,” she mentioned. However now, “there’s an explosive progress of curiosity amongst funders.” (She added that the majority who say they’ve misplaced a way of style have actually misplaced a way of odor.)

Monell researchers need to evaluate how usually folks lose their sense of odor after a bout with the flu versus a bout with COVID-19 — and the way lengthy the loss lasts. Is there a genetic predisposition to this complication?

Researchers at different establishments need to know who’s inclined to coronary heart infections, blood clots or lung injury after having a respiratory virus just like the flu. For essentially the most half, little is understood. A part of the issue was that solely a minority of sufferers with respiratory viruses had been affected with these circumstances, and till the coronavirus, that tended to not be an enormous quantity. Many of those results had been observed however then forgotten.

Coronary heart issues following a viral an infection are among the many greatest studied. Yearly, myocarditis — an irritation of the guts muscle — impacts as many as 1.5 million folks worldwide, most of whom had a previous respiratory virus an infection. Most recuperate absolutely.

However signs like fatigue are sometimes not acknowledged as being associated to myocarditis. And Dr. Bruce McManus, an emeritus pathology professor on the College of British Columbia, suspects that the fatigue that generally follows a bout with COVID-19 could be attributable to this coronary heart drawback.

“We consider COVID-19 and influenza as respiratory illnesses, and actually they’re,” McManus mentioned. “However the motive many sufferers attain their demise in lots of situations is myocardial.”

Some severely ailing COVID sufferers have lung injury. That, too, can even happen with different viruses, mentioned Dr. Clemente Britto-Leon, a lung researcher at Yale Faculty of Drugs. He lists some potentialities.

“You may have lung damage and scarring with influenza, with herpes viruses and with cytomegalovirus infections, for instance,” he mentioned, referring to a typical virus that often causes no signs. All these viruses can wreak injury on uncommon events, he mentioned. “You may have a really extreme damage and a whole lot of tissue destruction.”

Influenza may cause blood clots within the lining of the lungs that look similar to the small clots seen within the lungs of some COVID sufferers, mentioned Marco Goeijenbier of Erasmus College within the Netherlands. It occurs when flu viruses infect the decrease respiratory tract, an uncommon occasion as a result of most individuals have some preexisting protecting immunity.

Goeijenbier needs to review the blood clots that happen in these instances. Beforehand, with so few sufferers, he and others resorted to reproducing and learning the impact in laboratory research and in ferrets — the popular animals to review flu.

“It was onerous to get funding,” he mentioned. “Large journals or funders didn’t suppose it was fascinating sufficient.”

COVID is altering that.

There’s now “an enormous cohort of individuals to review,” mentioned Pamela Dalton, a odor researcher at Monell. However “the large query is, even when you study all the pieces about SARS-CoV-2” — the formal identify of the coronavirus — “how generalizable is it?”

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