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Here's How Coronavirus Attacks the Body

Understanding the toll the virus takes — and how to protect yourself

En español | If the lungs are ground zero for COVID-19, doctors are starting to learn more about the how the disease caused by the new coronavirus affects organs throughout the body. Many COVID-19 infections, for instance, involve heart damage — often swift and serious enough to cause heart failure or heart attacks. Increasingly, potentially fatal complications are understood to affect not only the heart, but the kidneys and brain, too, by way of acute infections or strokes.

As the path the virus takes through the body also starts to come into focus, doctors are gaining insight into how responses such as inflammation, or an immune system gone haywire, can lead to system-wide challenges made worse by underlying factors like diabetes or high blood pressure. Here is what the virus looks like in different parts of the body, and how experts say you can best protect yourself — whether you’re concerned about lung conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or uncontrolled hypertension.


Doctors around the world are noting COVID-19’s impact on the brain, with symptoms ranging from dizziness to loss of sense and smell and even strokes. Read more.

Lungs (Asthma, COPD)

COVID-19 launches its assault from the lungs. Conditions like COPD amp up the virus’s effects; asthma appears to be less of a risk factor than once believed. Read more about asthma. Read more about COPD.


Those with pre-existing conditions may face the biggest risk, but doctors are seeing many types of heart damage caused by the virus — or the body’s immune response to it. Read more.


Those most at risk for acute kidney injury with a COVID-19 are people with diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic kidney disease. Read more

Pancreas (Diabetes)

People with diabetes are no likelier to get COVID-19 than others, but they do face more severe complications from the virus. Read more