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Debunked: No, the world has not been wrongly treating Covid-19 as pneumonia

A post on Facebook claims that medics should treat Covid-19 as thrombosis, not pneumonia.

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A POST ON Facebook, a version of which has been widely shared beyond Ireland, claims that the world has been trying to treat Covid-19 incorrectly and that patients are being misdiagnosed with pneumonia.

The post claims that many patients are actually suffering from disseminated intravascular coagulation – a rare but serious condition that causes blood clots – rather than pneumonia. 

The post goes on to claim that new information from Italian pathologists show that ventilators and intensive care units weren’t needed to treat people and that deaths were caused primarily by pulmonary embolism -. when a blood vessel in your lung is blocked. 

Disseminated intravascular coagulation causes abnormal blood clotting and can lead to thrombosis and a clot in the person’s lungs.

The post states:

Thanks to 50 autopsies performed on patients who died of COVID-19, Italian pathologists have discovered that IT IS NOT PNEUMONIA, strictly speaking, because the virus does not only kill pneumocytes of this type, but uses an inflammatory storm to create an endothelial vascular thrombosis.

The claim

The post has been shared 273 times in Ireland, but is a version of a post that has appeared elsewhere. 

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This means, according to the post, that patients should be treated with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and anti-coagulants. 

The medical understanding of Covid-19 and the virus that causes the disease is still very limited. However, in recent months there has been an unprecedented focus on trying to study and better understand it. 

It is clear, from evidence around the world, that patients with Covid-19 do suffer from pneumonia. 

Since the start of the outbreak, a number of studies have also looked at links between Covid-19 and thrombosis. There have been also examinations of links between the disease and disseminated intravascular coagulation. One study, published in the British Journal of Haematology, notes that “emerging evidence shows that severe Covid-19 can be complicated with… disseminated intravascular coagulation”. 

However, it is wrong to state that patients have been misdiagnosed on a global scale. It is an accepted fact that patients with severe Covid-19 often develop pneumonia. 

Additionally, antibiotics should not be used to treat Covid-19, which is caused by a virus. Antibiotics can only be used against bacterial infections. 

Pneumonia 

Pneumonia is a swelling of the tissue in one or both lungs. It has been widely linked to Covid-19, with patients in severe cases developing pneumonia.

This isn’t to say that patients who are severely ill from Covid-19 only develop pneumonia. Some research has shown that some patients can develop both pneumonia and Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation.

However, it would be wrong to suggest that treatments for thrombosis alone can help cure Covid-19. A lot is still not known about the virus and there are so far no treatments or antivirals that have been widely recognised as effective against Covid-19. 

Blood clots

Patients with Covid-19 can develop blood clotting complications. In April, a study by scientists at the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland found that abnormal blood clotting occurs in patients with severe Covid-19 infection. 

It also found that patients with higher levels of blood clotting had a worse prognosis and were more likely to require ICU admission. 

Patients, the study found, developed blood clots alongside pneumonia. A link between blood clotting and Covid-19 pneumonia has been investigated elsewhere. 

There is also evidence to suggest that treatment with anticoagulants, which treat blood clots, should be used to treatment Covid-19 patients. However, the same study that advocates for such treatment also stresses that significant questions remain about the best approach to anti-coagulation therapy for hospitalised patients. 

Misdiagnosis 

The post is wrong to suggest that there has been a misdiagnosis of patients. Pneumonia has been widely linked to Covid-19, according to a large number of scientific studies from around the world. 

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As one study in the respected journal The Lancet makes clear, patients with Covid-19 can be at high risk of venous thromboembolism – where a blood clot forms in veins. Another article, published in The Lancet Rheumatology, also looks at the connections between Covid-19 pneumonia and blood clotting.

It is clear that pneumonia and thrombosis are not distinct illnesses experienced by patients with Covid-19. Patients do not suffer one or the other and such illnesses can manifest in the same patients at the same time.

While we don’t know a lot about the virus and treatments are still being developed, it’s wrong to say that Covid-19 patients have been wrongly diagnosed with pneumonia. It has been proven that many patients with Covid-19 have developed pneumonia – so while blood clotting and thrombosis-related conditions are increasingly being researched as illnesses identified in patients, that doesn’t mean medics don’t need to treat patients for pneumonia. 

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: [email protected]

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