Belgium: More than 15 percent of patients in intensive care with the flu or COVID-19 develop aspergillosis, a lung fungal infection. Currently, a study by UZ Leuven and KU Leuven has identified impairments in the immune response that make patients more susceptible to disease.
Hundreds of thousands of individuals end up in intensive care with the flu or COVID-19 on a per year basis. Some 15 percent develop an additional lung infection with the common fungus Aspergillus.
Among healthy people, the fungus almost never results in disease, but for critically ill patients who already have an underlying infection, aspergillosis can be fatal, causing irreparable damage to the tissue of the airways and lungs as well as doubling the risk of death.
To better understand why patients with serious flu or COVID-19 develop fungal infections, UZ UZ Leuven and KU Leuven researchers studied 169 patients, taking long-term samples from Leuven’s biobank.
Along with this, intensivist Joost Wauters (UZ Leuven) mentioned in the statement, “We found that the innate immune system was affected in several areas in patients with severe flu or Covid-19 who developed this fungal infection. The white blood cells that normally have to clear the fungal threads were found not to function properly. Similar immune failures play a role in part in Covid-19 and flu.”
The researchers discovered that COVID-19, as well as the flu, affect the epithelium of the lungs, which is the outer layer of cells that line airways and the lung tissue and form the first barrier against infection. In Covid-19 cases, the study showed that the fungus penetrates the tissue in the areas where the virus attacks the epithelium.
Furthermore, thanks to the findings, future research can focus on developing biomarkers that can help predict which patients are more susceptible to fungal infection and are in need of monitoring.