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Médecine interne et maladies infectieuses

COVID-19: SARS-CoV-2 infection

The world is facing a serious pandemic. The disease called COVID-19 is caused by a new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which started to spread in China in December 2019. COVID-19 is a condition that may be particularly serious and even fatal in elderly people, as well as in patients with comorbidities such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular diseases, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and cancer. The clinical presentation is mild in approximately 80% of cases, moderate to severe in 15% of cases, and critical in 5% of cases. The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and dry cough. Some patients may exhibit nasal congestion, chills, sore throat, or diarrhea. Severely ill patients can develop an acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), shock, thrombosis, and multiple organ failure, and they are at risk of death. COVID-19 patients with ARDS have a poor prognosis, with an estimated mortality rate of more than 10%. SARS-CoV-2 is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets. Airway and hand hygiene is therefore essential. The diagnosis is made by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction on a nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal swab and, in suggestive cases, by chest computed tomography, which has a high sensitivity. There is currently no effective specific treatment for COVID-19. Many molecules have been tried or are under investigation. The treatment currently remains supportive.

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Cardiological aspects of COVID-19 infection

From the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, physicians alerted the scientific community to the emergence of severe acute respiratory problems related to viral lung infections. The vast majority of these patients require oxygen therapy and 5 to 10% need assisted ventilation or even extracorporeal membrane oxygenation in the event of an uncontrolled situation. Poor prognosis factors mainly include age, as well as the presence of comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes, obesity, but also cardiovascular diseases. Coronaviruses are known to attack the cardiovascular system, and it also appears that the virus might attack the heart muscle directly. Data relayed namely by Chinese and Italian physicians show that besides the lungs, certain patients develop sometimes severe cardiac problems, such as acute myocarditis, acute coronary syndrome (ACS), or arrhythmias that in turn lead to heart failure, shock, or cardiac arrest in those most affected. Cardiac damage is therefore a factor contributing to the poor prognosis of COVID-19 and it must be detected. Patients who have an ACS but whose pulmonary picture prevails may have their cardiac management dangerously delayed. Conversely, patients who present with an exclusively "cardiological" picture may not be properly diagnosed as COVID-19. Finally, the focus on COVID-19 and the patients' fear of the contagiousness of this virus may delay their presentation at the hospital. These data directly impact the way physicians and hospitals should consider COVID-19 cardiac patients, especially at the first signs of the disease. It is therefore essential to have recommendations for the management of all patients with preexisting heart problems and those with demonstrated myocardial damage caused by the virus.

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