Speaking to the UK’s Channel 4, Dr David Hepburn, who is an Intensive Care Consultant at the Royal Gwent Hospital, shared what death from the coronavirus can look like without intervention.
“What we know is primarily the coronavirus causes respiratory failure. So when it spreads to the lungs, it causes what we call a pneumonitis, where the lungs become very wet and waterlogged inside. So the normal mechanisms that keep fluid in the blood break down. The little membranes and tissues and the bases of the lungs become porous, and that allows fluid to leak in from the circulation into the lungs, almost like drowning,” he explained.
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In terms of intervention, Dr Hepburn explained that with a ventilator, patients can be kept alive as ventilators “help to keep the lungs open”.
“One of the things we provide with ventilators is pressure, which pushes some of that fluid out and helps to keep the lungs open,” he explained.
“So [without a ventilator]… people become exhausted because the work of breathing is so great that they basically become exhausted and die,” he added.
“So, if you imagine your lungs are normally like a nice, light sponge – light and easy to move. If you’ve ever pulled a sponge out of a bucket of water you’ll know how heavy and wet can become. It’s exactly the same thing – if your lungs are absolutely sodden, then it’s very, very difficult to breathe.
“What happens over time is people’s levels of oxygen fall, the levels of carbon dioxide, which is a gas you normally breathe out, rise in the blood. That makes you even more drowsy – it has a narcotic effect. And then people will slowly develop worsening respiratory failure, and eventually they’ll become unconscious and their breathing will get more shallow and they’ll die.”
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) April 4, 2020