Coronavirus linked to liver damage cases

Local | Carine Chow 6 Aug 2020

More than a fifth of the first Covid-19 patients in the SAR had liver problems that would worsen their conditions significantly, researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found.

The team looked into 1,040 coronavirus cases that occurred between January 23 and May 1, and found 22.5 percent had liver damage.

Most had forms of hepatitis, and the risk of adverse clinical outcomes was nearly eight times higher than for others.

Only 4 percent had been diagnosed with hepatitis B before contracting the coronavirus while 0.3 percent had hepatitis C.

Of the 1,040, 53 went into intensive care, 22 received invasive mechanical ventilation and four died. And 71 percent of those 79 had liver damage.

Lead researcher Terry Yip Cheuk-fung said: "About one fifth of liver-damaged patients had liver enzyme levels elevated as high as two times over the upper limit."

Some saw an increase in level of bilirubin, a yellowish substance in the blood.

The researchers said liver damage could have been caused by systemic inflammation set off by the virus, instability in blood oxygen or an adverse reaction to drugs such as steroids and antibiotics.

Male and the elderly were more susceptible, and Grace Wong Lai-hung, a professor of gastroenterology and hepatology, said the risk of liver damage rose with age.

The median age of the group was 35, with many returning from study overseas.

Wong also said the liver damage was reversible and no liver failure was recorded.

The CUHK led a group of 12 experts from the mainland, Japan, Singapore and Australia in issuing a regional position on management of Covid-19 patients with liver problems. It was published online in The Lancet Gastroenterology & Hepatology.

Meanwhile, the Research Council chaired by food and health secretary Sophia Chan Siu-chee yesterday approved a HK$59 million to support local universities working on Covid-19.

Newly approved studies cover waste water and genomic surveillance to track coronavirus transmission and identification of barriers to public compliance with infection controls.

The risk of pets spreading the virus to humans, the effects of smoking and rehabilitation for recovered patients are also being researched.


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