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Pathophysiology, Transmission, Diagnosis, and Treatment of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Importance The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, due to the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has caused a worldwide sudden and substantial increase in hospitalizations for pneumonia with multiorgan disease. This review discusses current evidence regarding the pathophysiology, transmission, diagnosis, and management of COVID-19.

Observations SARS-CoV-2 is spread primarily via respiratory droplets during close face-to-face contact. Infection can be spread by asymptomatic, presymptomatic, and symptomatic carriers. The average time from exposure to symptom onset is 5 days, and 97.5% of people who develop symptoms do so within 11.5 days. The most common symptoms are fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath. Radiographic and laboratory abnormalities, such as lymphopenia and elevated lactate dehydrogenase, are common, but nonspecific. Diagnosis is made by detection of SARS-CoV-2 via reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction testing, although false-negative test results may occur in up to 20% to 67% of patients; however, this is dependent on the quality and timing of testing. Manifestations of COVID-19 include asymptomatic carriers and fulminant disease characterized by sepsis and acute respiratory failure. Approximately 5% of patients with COVID-19, and 20% of those hospitalized, experience severe symptoms necessitating intensive care. More than 75% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 require supplemental oxygen. Treatment for individuals with COVID-19 includes best practices for supportive management of acute hypoxic respiratory failure. Emerging data indicate that dexamethasone therapy reduces 28-day mortality in patients requiring supplemental oxygen compared with usual care (21.6% vs 24.6%; age-adjusted rate ratio, 0.83 [95% CI, 0.74-0.92]) and that remdesivir improves time to recovery (hospital discharge or no supplemental oxygen requirement) from 15 to 11 days. In a randomized trial of 103 patients with COVID-19, convalescent plasma did not shorten time to recovery. Ongoing trials are testing antiviral therapies, immune modulators, and anticoagulants. The case-fatality rate for COVID-19 varies markedly by age, ranging from 0.3 deaths per 1000 cases among patients aged 5 to 17 years to 304.9 deaths per 1000 cases among patients aged 85 years or older in the US. Among patients hospitalized in the intensive care unit, the case fatality is up to 40%. At least 120 SARS-CoV-2 vaccines are under development. Until an effective vaccine is available, the primary methods to reduce spread are face masks, social distancing, and contact tracing. Monoclonal antibodies and hyperimmune globulin may provide additional preventive strategies.

Conclusions and Relevance As of July 1, 2020, more than 10 million people worldwide had been infected with SARS-CoV-2. Many aspects of transmission, infection, and treatment remain unclear. Advances in prevention and effective management of COVID-19 will require basic and clinical investigation and public health and clinical interventions.

Transmission, Symptoms, and Complications of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

  • Transmission17 of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) occurs primarily via respiratory droplets from face-to-face contact and, to a lesser degree, via contaminated surfaces. Aerosol spread may occur, but the role of aerosol spread in humans remains unclear. An estimated 48% to 62% of transmission may occur via presymptomatic carriers.

  • Common symptoms18 in hospitalized patients include fever (70%-90%), dry cough (60%-86%), shortness of breath (53%-80%), fatigue (38%), myalgias (15%-44%), nausea/vomiting or diarrhea (15%-39%), headache, weakness (25%), and rhinorrhea (7%). Anosmia or ageusia may be the sole presenting symptom in approximately 3% of individuals with COVID-19.

  • Common laboratory abnormalities19 among hospitalized patients include lymphopenia (83%), elevated inflammatory markers (eg, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein, ferritin, tumor necrosis factor-α, IL-1, IL-6), and abnormal coagulation parameters (eg, prolonged prothrombin time, thrombocytopenia, elevated D-dimer [46% of patients], low fibrinogen).

  • Common radiographic findings of individuals with COVID-19 include bilateral, lower-lobe predominate infiltrates on chest radiographic imaging and bilateral, peripheral, lower-lobe ground-glass opacities and/or consolidation on chest computed tomographic imaging.

  • Common complications18,20-24 among hospitalized patients with COVID-19 include pneumonia (75%); acute respiratory distress syndrome (15%); acute liver injury, characterized by elevations in aspartate transaminase, alanine transaminase, and bilirubin (19%); cardiac injury, including troponin elevation (7%-17%), acute heart failure, dysrhythmias, and myocarditis; prothrombotic coagulopathy resulting in venous and arterial thromboembolic events (10%-25%); acute kidney injury (9%); neurologic manifestations, including impaired consciousness (8%) and acute cerebrovascular disease (3%); and shock (6%).

  • Rare complications among critically ill patients with COVID-19 include cytokine storm and macrophage activation syndrome (ie, secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis).

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