How a lung ultrasound might give more insight into Covid-19 damage

  • Medical professionals make use of chest CT scans to detect lung damage
  • Covid-19 can cause visible damage to the lungs, which can indicate the severity of the disease
  • Researchers now believe that lung ultrasounds should be utilised to spot telltale Covid-19 damage

As experts learn more and more about Covid-19, many are becoming aware of possible long-term damage to lungs and other organs as a result of the disease.

Some earlier research showed that pneumonia-like lung damage can even show up in those who had extremely mild to asymptomatic Covid-19.

As lung CT scans were deemed vital in the diagnosis and management of Covid-19, researchers from China’s Beijing Ditan Hospital have found that a lung ultrasound may have more advantages and more sensitivity to pick up Covid-19-related damage than the standard chest CT.

What shows up on Covid-19 lungs?

The research was published in the American Journal of Roentgenology and investigated 28 Covid-19 patients between 3 and 30 March 2020. The patients were all between the ages of 21 and 92 years.

According to the study, the patients’ lungs showed the following on the ultrasounds:

  • B-lines in all the patients (lines that show up when lungs suffered conditions such as pneumonia)
  • Pulmonary consolidation in 67.9% of the patients (when part of the lung is filled with liquid instead of air)
  • Thickened plural lines in 60.7% of the patients (when the lung lining thickens with scar tissue)

Only one patient showed a small amount of pleural effusion, which is the excess of fluid between the layers of thin membranes on the outside of the lungs.

According to Yao Zhang, study author, a thickened pleural line was more common in patients who were sicker for longer after the initial onset of symptoms, while pulmonary consolidations were more common in those with severe and critical Covid-19.

What is the purpose of this research?

Zhang and his team wanted to conduct the study to find the relationship between the findings of lung ultrasound and the duration and symptoms of Covid-19.

According to Zhang, the research indicates that the findings of ultrasounds as opposed to CT scans can be useful to reflect how long the infection lasted, as well as how severe the disease was.

Zhang also stated that portable radiography could be useful in evaluating the severity of lung damage in Covid-19 patients.

"A bedside, portable, handheld US system or even a robot-assisted tele-US system (a unique technique for physicians to remotely scan patients) further minimises the number of healthcare workers and medical devices exposed to Covid-19," wrote Zhang and the team.

The researchers suggested that a type of “severity score” should be developed from ultrasound findings to help facilitate more accurate comparisons in future studies, according to a news release

READ | Future complications possible even in asymptomatic Covid-19 cases, research found

READ | How damaged lungs were revived for a transplant 

READ | Covid-19 damages lungs differently from the flu

Image credit: iStock

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