Peculiar symptoms of blood clots and inflammation have been associated with coronavirus in very rare cases. A recent study reveals the vital role of platelets in the immune system and how they protect the respiratory system against attacking pathogens.

Platelets are blood cells that help the body form clots when it is bleeding. When blood vessels become damaged, platelets are signaled to part of the body where it will repair the damage.

A team of researchers observed how platelets absorb virion, or virus particles, that have infected the body. When virus pathogens enter the body, some may bind to sugar molecules attached to blood platelets. Their study also notes a direct relationship between the virus and how it binds to platelets - severe flu would be the result of stronger bonds between the virus and blood platelets.

The relationship explains why respiratory infections such as influenza and coronavirus may lead to acute platelet loss or thrombocytopenia. How platelets behave when a flu virus infects the body is a new discovery.

Erhard van der Vries, the lead researcher said, 'in patients with flu, the platelets absorb virus particles from the lungs, after which they return to the bloodstream.' This could help further research with coronavirus patients who had acute cardiovascular problems such as blood clots, or blood coagulation, and strokes.

'Immune Response of Platelets' 

Previous research has already linked respiratory tract infections and acute cardiovascular problems such as the seasonal pattern where mortality rates of people with cardiovascular illnesses rise during the annual flu season. A study from 2018 showed how the risk of heart attack became six times higher during the week that a flue infection was confirmed during the influenza season.

On the other hand, older people receiving the flu vaccine are 20% less likely to be hospitalized for heart problems such as a heart attack or a stroke. Vaccines are regularly updated and remain the best protection against the flu.

With coronavirus, the team expects the same relationship between cardiovascular events and the virus. Blood platelets having responsibilities in both blood coagulation and the immune system is vital.

Van der Vries explained, 'We know from international research that the flu shot greatly reduces the risk of acute cardiovascular diseases, such as strokes. The mechanism behind this was hitherto unknown. This research shows that an early immune response of platelets plays an important role during the flu.

However, the same immune response can also lead to complications in certain situations. This seems to be the case, for example, in coronary patients, where the immune response can also lead to a pulmonary embolism, causing patients to end up in the ICU.'

Read Also: Coronavirus Affects the Internal Organs Too, Say Medical Experts While Noting Additional Peculiar Symptoms

Further Research

The team aims to investigate the role of platelets in the immune system with further research in both humans and animals alongside virologists, hematologists, and immunologists. One of the problems they hope to solve is after platelets travel to the lungs during a flu infection, where do they go next and how do they communicate virological information to cells from the immune system.

Their results may help develop new therapies for acute cardiovascular problems, thrombotic events, as well as possible respiratory tract infections. Hospitals may also look into platelet information in blood tests when a patient has a respiratory tract infection. Most importantly, the new study can be used to help in the development of vaccines.

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