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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: COVID-19 could cause lung abnormalities still traceable in patients three months after infection, new research suggests.
Oxford University in the UK studied 10 patients using a scanning technique to detect changes left hidden during standard health scans.
The new method involves MRI scans that use xenon gas to generate a clear picture of lung damage.
Lung experts said the new testing technique, if successful in detecting lung damage, “would make a huge difference to COVID-19 patients.”
The xenon method involves patients inhaling the gas during an MRI scan. Prof. Fergus Gleeson, who leads the study, used the new method on 10 patients aged 19-69.
The results showed that eight patients suffered from shortness of breath and tiredness three months after COVID-19 infection, despite none of them receiving intensive care or ventilation, and conventional health scans finding no lung damage.
But the new scans revealed signs of lung damage in eight patients by exposing areas where air did not flow easily into the blood.
Gleeson is now looking to expand the study by trialing up to 100 people who were not admitted to hospital and did not suffer serious symptoms. The goal is to discover whether lung damage occurs, and if so, its extent and duration.
“I was expecting some form of lung damage, but not to the degree that we have seen,” Gleeson said.
If the trial reveals that lung damage occurs across a wide age group and those with minor symptoms, “it would move the goalposts,” he added.
The lung damage revealed by the new scans could be a factor behind “long COVID,” where people fall ill for months following infection, he said.
The xenon scanning technique was developed by researchers at the University of Sheffield in the UK, led by Prof. James Wild.
“In other fibrotic lung diseases we have shown the methods to be very sensitive to this impairment and we hope the work can help understand COVID-19 lung disease,” Wild said.
Dr. Shelley Hayles, who worked on the study, said: “Up to 10 percent of those who have had COVID-19 might have some form of lung damage which is leading to prolonged symptoms.
“When medical staff tell patients that they don’t know what’s wrong with them and they don’t know how to sort the symptoms out, it’s very stressful. With most patients, even if the news isn’t great, they want the diagnosis.”
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