Here's How Coronavirus Affects Your Body, From Your Head to Toes
After it enters through your eyes, nose, or mouth, COVID-19 attacks different parts of your body.
A relatively new virus strain, the coronavirus causing COVID-19 is being heavily researched, and new reports are coming out frequently about how it manifests. Not every patient who tests positive for the disease experiences the same symptoms. Some report no symptoms at all, in fact. Others cycle through several, from loss of smell to gastrointestinal issues and beyond. However, as the World Health Organization (WHO) reports more than 4.5 million cases of COVID-19 globally, researchers have become more knowledgeable on how the coronavirus may potentially affect your entire body, from your head all the way to your toes. And for more about how you can get the coronavirus, check out The 7 Most Dangerous Spots You Can Catch Coronavirus.
Your nose and mouth
Per WebMD, the virus is spread when someone is exposed to respiratory droplets that are transmitted through the air as an infected person coughs, sneezes, or breathes. While it's more common to become infected after being within six feet of an infected person, you can also come in contact with the disease by touching a surface that's hosting coronavirus. If the viral particles from these droplets make their way to your mouth, nose, or even your eyes, the virus can attach to ACE2 receptors in the mucous membranes of your throat and infect the body.
If you do experience symptoms, they could appear as few as two days after exposure or as a long as 14 days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is because the virus is multiplying in your body, infecting more healthy cells. It usually starts attacking where it enters first, leading to early coronavirus symptoms like fever and cough. A study published in the International Forum of Allergy & Rhinology journal on Apr. 12 found that nearly 70 percent of positive patients in the study also reported loss of smell and taste in early stages. And for more news about this disease, check out The Shocking Problem That Could Prevent You From Getting the Coronavirus Vaccine.
After infecting your mouth and nose, the virus moves down the respiratory tract through the throat. A WHO report from February of this year reported that nearly 14 percent of coronavirus patients suffered from a sore throat. This is because the virus can cause inflammation as it travels. However, Michael Lerner, MD, a Yale Medicine laryngologist, told Health that sore throats are common and can be due to "other inflammatory conditions like allergies, post-nasal drip, and even acid reflux." So if you are only experiencing a sore throat, it may not be the coronavirus that's causing it. And for more information on a possible vaccine, check out The Promising New Coronavirus Vaccine You Need to Know About.
Next, the coronavirus reaches your lungs, one of the main organs it attacks. This is how shortness of breath–another symptom of the virus–occurs, because your lungs become inflamed. However, this typically only occurs in people who develop a severe case of COVID-19, five to eight days after symptoms start. Many of those patients with mild cases only experience as far as the fever and cough.
In those more serious cases, acute respiratory distress (ARDS) sets in. According to WebMD, ARDS causes "rapid breathing, a fast heart rate, dizziness, and sweating." When the virus attacks the tissues and blood vessels in the alveoli (tiny air sacs of the lungs), many patients must be put on a ventilator that helps them breathe.
The virus may also attack the cells that line the digestive system. A study published in the Gastroenterology journal on Apr. 10 found that one-third of coronavirus patients surveyed reported gastrointestinal symptoms, such as loss of appetite, nausea, and diarrhea. The patients all said they experienced those symptoms after having respiratory symptoms, according to researchers at Stanford Medicine.
However, bodies react to the coronavirus in different ways. A small subset of patients report rashes on the feet, commonly referred to as "COVID toes." These lesions are possibly caused by micro clots in the blood tissues of the toes, according to the Cleveland Health Clinic. Those blood clots are the result of damaged blood vessels, causing the flow of blood to be blocked or slowed down, which can force blood cells to stick together and form a clot. Unfortunately blood clots create more problems than just lesions. They can also result in a heart attack or stroke. Disturbingly, The Washington Post reported on Apr. 25 that strokes are disproportionally killing coronavirus patients in their 30s and 40s, while the median age for such a severe stroke is in the 70s.
Your entire body
When your blood vessels are attacked, fluid can collect in the lungs, which stops them from getting the oxygen you need to your blood, according to WebMD. This, in turn, means that your blood can't supply oxygen to your other organs, which is how your kidneys and liver are affected. And in cases that lead to death (almost 310,000 globally so far, WHO reports), this lack of oxygen is what can cause the body's organs to shut down completely. And if you're curious as to how the virus can be stopped, check out How Many People Need to Wear Masks to Stop the Coronavirus.