Coronavirus patients could have permanent lung damage: Taiwanese doctor

Physician Wang Shih-hao urges public not to travel amid rising imported cases of Wuhan virus

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Medical personnel attend to a patient in critical condition at a hospital designated for coronavirus patients in Wuhan.

Medical personnel attend to a patient in critical condition at a hospital designated for coronavirus patients in Wuhan. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — A Taiwanese doctor warned the public against traveling abroad to reduce the risk of contracting the coronavirus, saying that some cases could be left with “sustained lung damage.”

Wang Shih-hao (王士豪), an intensive care physician, said in a Facebook post on Monday (March 16) that COVID-19 could result in permanent damage even after recovery.

Unlike influenza, which typically involves upper respiratory tract infections, the Wuhan virus spreads to the lower respiratory system a higher percentage of the time, Wang noted. While patients who come down with the seasonal flu rarely suffer any lasting damage, he said that those who develop pneumonia from the Wuhan virus are more likely to have their lung capacity permanently damaged.

The coronavirus commonly results in a cough, wheezing, shortness of breath, mucus build-up, and pneumonia by affecting the bronchioles and alveoli in the lungs. Patients can even be left with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, or progressive scarring of the lungs, Wang cautioned.

He cited a study by the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, which found that patients who had fully recovered from COVID-19 exhibited a 20 to 30 percent decline in lung function. Some of them have to gasp for air when walking quickly, according to the research.

As the world continues to see a proliferation of outbreaks in metropolises and transit hubs for air travel, Wang pleaded with the public to refrain from nonessential travel, for their own protection.

Taiwan has reported more than 20 new cases this week, many of whom recently traveled abroad, mostly to Europe. The central government has issued a decree banning students and teachers from the elementary to senior high school level from taking foreign trips for this semester and is mulling expanding the restrictions to universities.