PARTLY FALSE: COVID-19 is thrombosis, not pneumonia

Claim: COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is not pneumonia but a form of thrombosis or blood clotting in the blood vessels.

"Autopsies performed by Italian pathologists" supposedly uncovered that COVID-19 "is not pneumonia but it is disseminated intravascular coagulation (thrombosis) which ought to be fought with antibiotics, antivirals, anti-inflammatories and anticoagulants."

The post quoted Italian pathologists who reportedly did autopsies on 50 patients who died of COVID-19 in Bergamo and Milan in northern Italy. It also quoted the same pathologists in saying that ventilators and intensive care units "were never needed."

Recent widely-shared posts written in Filipino and flagged by Facebook's Claim Check dashboard also mentioned that the cause of death for COVID-19 patients is thrombosis, and a simple anti-coagulant is among the cures. 

These posts added that COVID-19 is a bacteria, not a virus, so antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, aspirin, and paracetamol can also be taken. "Hindi kailangan ang ICU o ventilator," it added. (ICU or ventilators are not needed.)

Rating: PARTLY FALSE

The facts: Multiple studies show that thrombosis or blood clotting is among the complications brought by COVID-19. However, not all COVID-19 patients exhibit this, and more studies are needed to determine the effectiveness and proper use of anticoagulants for treatment.

The claims did not link to studies or reports supporting their arguments. 

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, thrombosis happens when a blood clot blocks the blood flow in a vein or an artery. Serious problems and complications can occur where the thrombosis is located. Pneumonia, on the other hand, is a serious lung infection where the air sacs fill with pus and other liquid due to bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

Pneumonia, acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS, and sepsis are among the clinical syndromes associated with COVID-19, according to the World Health Organization. In severe to critical cases, venous thrombosis and venous thromboembolism are among the complications, said the WHO and the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Multiple fact-checkers worldwide in the CoronaVirusFacts Alliance have previously rated this and similar claims as false or misleading, like Newtral.es in Spain, Animal Politico in Mexico, and BOOM Live in India. 

Animal Politico cited a study that said pulmonary thrombosis "could further complicate the course of pneumonia." It also talked to an expert who said hospitalized COVID-19 patients "are affected by pneumonia with respiratory insufficiency caused by the virus, often accompanied by cardiovascular complications and, in particular, venous thrombosis and pulmonary embolism."

Other accredited fact checkers like Politifact in the United States and Full Fact in the United Kingdom also rated this claim as false. Politifact, for instance, quoted a doctor who said COVID-19 begins in the lungs like any form of common-cold coronaviruses, then wrecks the immune system, resulting in long-term damage or even death.

There is an Italian study in April – which is pre-print and has not been peer-reviewed yet – that detailed the autopsy of 38 patients who died of COVID-19 in Milan and Bergamo. The study said the main pattern they saw in patients is the diffuse alveolar disease, which severely affects the alveoli or air sacs in the lungs.

A relevant finding is the presence of "platelet-fibrin thrombi in small arterial vessels." This presence "fits into the clinical context of coagulopathy" or the impairment of the blood's ability to clot.

To treat thrombosis, healthcare providers consider the patient's medical history, current condition, and reaction to medication. Among the treatments are anticoagulants or blood-thinning medicine, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

The use of anticoagulants has been suggested as "potentially beneficial" in patients with severe COVID-19, but the Italian study said "its efficacy and safety have not been demonstrated."

The CDC said the pathogenesis or manner of development of blood clots associated with COVID-19 remains unknown. There is also limited data available to guide health professionals in treating venous thromboembolism in COVID-19 patients. 

Rappler had rated as false the related claim that COVID-19 is a bacteria, and thus could be cured by aspirin. – Michael Bueza/Rappler.com

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