Lung ultrasound can detect severity, duration of infection in COVID-19 patients
Scientists believe that lung ultrasound is the most effective way of examining various consequences of COVID-19 infection, which could not have been clear with a normal X-ray
It has been established by various scientists and doctors that the novel coronavirus which causes the COVID-19 disease is a respiratory virus and primarily affects the lungs. Most people who contract the virus present with mild respiratory symptoms (breathlessness and cough) but in some people, this virus leads to severe pneumonia. To study the severity and duration of lung infection among COVID-19 positive patients, scientists from Beijing used ultrasounds to examine the patients admitted to the hospital between 3 and 30 March 2020.
Ultrasounds to examine the lungs
In the study published in the journal American Journal of Roentgenology, the scientists performed lung ultrasounds of 28 patients (14 men and 14 women) who were in the age group of 21 to 92 years. Of these, 23 patients presented with fever, 14 presented with cough, six had dyspnea (shortness of breath), four patients complained of fatigue, and only one patient had diarrhoea. The doctors performed lung ultrasounds and chest CT scans for all of these patients.
The ultrasound scanning results
The ultrasound of the lungs showed the presence of B-lines in all the patients. B-lines are long wide bands of a bright light that look similar to that of a comet-tail. Their presence indicates pneumonia and pulmonary contusion in the lungs.
The scans further showed that 19 patients had pulmonary consolidation, a condition when the area of the lungs which is usually filled with air, gets filled with a liquid.
It was also seen that 17 patients had thick pleural lines (the outer covering of the lungs) and only one patient showed mild signs of pleural effusion (fluid build-up in the lungs).
Lung diseases in patients vary as per the duration of their symptoms
The ultrasounds were done within a month after the initial symptoms of COVID-19 appeared in these patients. The duration of symptoms from initial onset to the day of lung ultrasound was classified as early (less than 20 days), intermediate (20 to 30 days), or late (more than 30 days).
There were nine patients in the early group, nine in the intermediate group and 10 patients in the late group.
B-lines were visible in all patients irrespective of the duration of their symptoms. The ultrasound reports showed that pleural effusion was seen in the early phase.
The doctors also found that pleural line thickening was not seen in the early group but was seen in six patients of the intermediate group and 10 patients of the late group.
Pulmonary consolidation was seen in six patients of each group.
Lung diseases in patients vary as per the severity of the disease
Out of all these patients, 13 patients had moderate symptoms and 15 patients had severe disease. B-lines were seen in both patients with moderate and severe symptoms.
Eight patients from the moderate group and nine from the severe group showed thickened pleural lines in the ultrasound.
The ultrasound further showed that pulmonary consolidation was significantly higher in patients with severe symptoms (13 patients) than those in the moderate group (6 patients). The only patient with pleural effusion was in the moderate group.
The scientists believe that lung ultrasound, also available as a portable ultrasound, is the most effective way of examining various consequences of COVID-19 infection, which could not have been clear with a normal X-ray.
For more information, read our article on Mild versus severe symptoms of COVID-19.
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