Why Some COVID-19 Patients Crash: The Body’s Immune System Might Be To Blame

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    Updated at 10 a.m. ET It’s a strange and tragic pattern in some cases of COVID-19: The patient struggles through the first week of illness, and perhaps even begins to feel a little better. Then suddenly they crash. “We’ve seen some patients rapidly worsen,” says Dr. Pavan Bhatraju , an assistant professor at the University of Washington who works in the intensive care unit at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. “They initially were just requiring a little bit of oxygen. In 24 hours they’re on a ventilator.” A recent study by Bhatraju and others found that the patients’ lungs appeared to deteriorate quickly. The crash typically happens seven days into the disease and can occur in young, otherwise healthy victims of COVID-19. Now doctors and researchers are increasingly convinced that, in some cases at least, the cause is the body’s own immune system overreacting to the virus. The problem, known broadly as a “cytokine storm,” can happen when the immune system triggers a runaway

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