Altered facial pigmentation following recovery from severe COVID-19 infections in Wuhan may be due to liver dysfunction

Source:Global Times Published: 2020/4/20 15:23:40

Military medical staff airlifted by eight large transport planes of the air force of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) arrive at Tianhe International Airport in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Feb. 2, 2020. (Xinhua/Cheng Min)

Two Wuhan doctors who have recovered from severe COVID-19 infections were left with altered facial pigmentation, which could be due to abnormal liver function, a Chinese newspaper said on Monday, citing medical experts. 

In a video that has recently gone viral on Chinese social media, the faces of Yi Fan and Hu Weifeng, two doctors at Wuhan Central Hospital who recovered after two months of COVID-19 treatment, showed darkened pigmentation.

For patients with severe COVID-19 infections, the fight against the disease is akin to killing enemies that would inflict substantial self-damage, the Health Times reported, citing Song Jianxin, head of the infectious diseases department at Tongji Medical College, Huazhong University of Science and Technology.

Patients' lives were saved while multiple organs were injured, said Song, also a member of Hubei's epidemic prevention expert group, adding that the altered pigmentation results in a darkened face.

An unnamed doctor working at the fever clinic in Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University explained that iron entering the body is metabolized and stored by the liver. But if a patient's liver has been injured and fails to function, the iron would then flow to blood vessels, leading to an increased amount of iron in the blood. Blood supply to the face could then easily increase facial pigmentation, said the doctor, adding that long-term liver dysfunction causes metabolic abnormalities and is prone to inducing heightened pigmentation. 

The Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology published an article in early March from a team headed by Wang Fusheng, a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and a professor at the 302 Hospital of People's Liberation Army. The article explained that certain percentages of liver function abnormalities were found in COVID-19 patients with both mild and severe infections.

Judging from clinical observation and published literature, the main damage the virus inflicts on patients is lung injury. Some patients have reported varying degrees of liver damage, which might be related to secondary liver damage, the extensive use of drugs over the course of treatment, and the occurrence of respiratory distress syndrome in the cases of critically ill patients found to have multiple-organ damage involving not just the liver or lungs, but also the heart and kidneys, the newspaper said, quoting Gong Zuojiong, director of the infectious diseases department at the Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University.

Zhan Qingyuan, director of the pulmonary and critical care medicine department at the China-Japan Friendship Hospital, said the difficulty of containing COVID-19 lies in the fact that the virus hits the lungs, heart, digestive tract and kidneys, and inhibits hemoglutination, instantly paralyzing the immune system.

Medical experts had expected facial pigmentation in the two doctors to return to normal as they gradually recovered from the deadly disease. 

The virus also left its mark on other severe-case coronavirus patients whose skin was chapped and shed, said Song, stressing that that as long as patients' lives are rescued, their damaged organs will gradually recover.

The next stage of treatment will focus on resolving the virus' various sequelae, according to the anonymous frontline doctor, who said the liver can repair after certain treatment.

Hu was able to communicate normally on March 30, while Yi could leave his sickbed and stand independently on April 3. 

Global Times 


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