People with lung disease including asthma at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19

Doctors have been busy treating coronavirus and other illnesses.
Doctors have been busy treating coronavirus and other illnesses.(Source WAFF)
Updated: Apr. 13, 2020 at 7:24 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - COVID-19 likes to attack the lungs, including in life-threatening ways which can prompt severe shortness of breath, inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs.

Dr. Kyle Happel is part of the LSU Health Pulmonary Care/Critical Medicine team.

"The underlying problem that COVID-pneumonia causes and that is probably easiest thought of as lung flooding,” he said.

Researchers who are studying the new coronavirus say it can take up residence deep within the lungs.

Dr. Vineet Menachery is an immunologist and virologist at the University of Texas.

"And this is where the vast majority of lethal disease is associated,” he said about having the virus in the deeper parts of the lungs.

Happel said already having lung disease can present challenges for people who contract COVID-19.

"What we think is that people who have underlying structural lung disease are both more susceptible to infection by the virus and at the same time less likely to be able to deal with any given degree of dysfunction because their lungs are already injured, or already abnormal,” he said.

Menachery said in some people the virus leads to an overreaction by the immune system.

“Your immune response can actually over respond and cause a significant amount of damage and this damage can be just as bad or even worse than the virus itself and this is actually exacerbated in people with health disparities as well as in older people,” Menachery said.

Happel discussed how having a chronic lung problem can hamper how well the body can fight against the disease.

"And so the concern, particularly, for people who have chronic heart or chronic lung disease is when they get the COVID-pneumonia they simply don't have the same amount of reserve as a healthy person of their age to be able to deal with the lung flooding, the fevers, the tremendous systemic inflammation that COVID can generate in these people,” he said.

The CDC says people with moderate or severe asthma may be at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.

"Asthma is clearly an inflammatory airways disease,” said Happel. “So, we typically treat asthma, the controller medications for asthma are anti-inflammatory medications, inhaled steroids are typically the first-line controller medications.

And Happel says people with asthma should be diligent about taking their medications.

"I do a lot of asthma as an outpatient, we're doing telephone calls with patients, we're doing video-conferencing with patients just to try to help maintain them through this because we can't see them in the office,” he said.

According to the latest CDC data, Louisiana has almost 320,000 adults diagnosed with asthma.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is another serious lung condition.

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