The novel coronavirus can infect immune cells that will trigger a massive inflammatory response and create severe COVID-19 symptoms, according to new research.

Details: Two new studies — one published in the journal Nature and another available on a preprint server — found that the immune cells infected by the coronavirus can cause severe inflammation.

  • Research since the beginning of the pandemic has suggested inflammation creates respiratory issues and organ damage.
  • Now, the researchers found that coronavirus can infect white blood cells — macrophages in the lungs, and monocytes in the blood — which then trigger the inflammation.

Behind the scenes: The cells normally absorb the virus and treat it so that the virus doesn’t infect other cells, per CNN.

  • The novel coronavirus, though, “escapes into the body of the cell, where it starts making copies of itself,” per CNN.
  • So when a virus infects defense cells, it sets off alarms in the body. From there, inflammasomes emerge and start to kill off those cells in a process called pyroptosis.

What they said: “The viruses not only get taken up, but once they get taken up, the virus starts replicating, so that was surprising,” research leader Dr. Judith Lieberman, a pediatric immunologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told CNN.

  • “When cells die by pyroptosis, they release all kinds of inflammatory proteins that cause fever and summon more immune cells to the site,” Lieberman told CNN.
  • “We don’t have any way of treating that once it gets started. It’s just sort of like a little fire. It spreads and explodes and no fire extinguisher is capable of putting it out,” she said, per CNN.
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Worth noting: The researchers found that the coronavirus could not produce new viruses as it spread throughout people, according to Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News.

  • In fact, “the cells died quickly from pyroptosis before new viruses could fully form,” per GenEng News.