Researchers illustrate the intensity of COVID-19 infections with new images

TORONTO — Researchers at the University of North Carolina released startling new images that illustrate what happens to the body’s airways when infected with COVID-19.

The high-powered microscopic images, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show how easily infected COVID-19 cells on the human respiratory system can spread and transmit to others.

To produce the images, assistant professor Camille Ehre implanted the virus into human cells. The cells were examined 96 hours later using scanning electron microscopy and were re-colourized. 

Researchers say the images make a strong case for the increased use of face masks to limit the transmission of COVID-19, after an incredibly high number of virus particles were found inside the human respiratory system.

The volume of measurable quantity of the virus, known as the viral load, can help scientists determine how likely a person is to develop a severe COVID-19 infection and transmit it to others.

In May, the Public Health Agency of Canada recommended that face coverings be used in settings where it is not possible to maintain a physical distance of two metres. Canada’s federal transportation minister then mandated the use of face masks on all planes, trains and ships to help curb new infections. Large gatherings are still not permitted and Canadians are encouraged to diligently follow health and safety precautions.

Researchers hope these new images will help scientists find new and effective ways to treat COVID-19 by identifying the viral load and potential risks that can lead to death.

As of Saturday there were more than 6,800 active COVID-19 cases in Canada. The country has reported more than 9,000 deaths and more than 136,000 cases.  

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