My Sonography Experience With COVID-19

It is been almost 5 weeks since I got infected with SARS-CoV-2 (also known as COVID-19), my life-changing experience.1

The day all started, during my night shift, I started with low-grade fever, chills, and myalgia; I did not doubt for a second that I had to have the test for SARS-CoV-2. That same day, most of my mild COVID-19 patients had these same cold-like symptoms, but some of them did not have a known epidemiological contact. Without time to have any other tests done, laboratory or X-ray, I self-quarantined at home waiting for the result. And finally, it came in the midst of the night; I received the “positive”.

In the morning, as more symptoms started to appear, headache, diarrhea, anosmia, ageusia and dry cough, it was a relief to have my hand-held ultrasound device at home. With the rush, I even left my oximeter, which measures heart rate and blood oxygen levels, in my hospital locker.

There is now growing evidence regarding the imaging findings of COVID-19, but at that time, the only studies were performed via CT scan and X-ray. With my ultrasound probe, I scanned following 8 zones (2 anterior, 2 lateral of both hemithorax) plus posterior lobes. I felt relieved (didn’t last long) to see there was a normal A-line pattern. More relief came when at some point I had a dull but constant right lower abdominal pain with normal appendix and no hydronephrosis on ultrasound.

 

What impresses most about this disease is its dynamic pattern, with sudden changes during the evolution. As my symptoms waxed and waned, so did my lung ultrasound, probably in a different manner than I would have expected. As the disease progressed, I saw all the possible lung findings, from the initial posterobasal scattered B-lines, to small pleural effusions, irregular pleural line, coalescent B-lines, and finally subpleural consolidations, especially in posterior and lateral areas. My personal impression was that I wasn’t feeling worse when I had more B-lines, but when the subpleural consolidations started to appear and spread. Each time I had new subpleural consolidations, there was a worsening in my symptoms coming: more myasthenia, cough, and diarrhea. After the second week, the subpleural consolidations were replaced by coalescent and scattered B-lines. Following that, the irregular pleural line persisted longer.

March 22 still

 

Surprisingly, during the third week, things started to worsen again, and on ultrasound there was a big consolidation appearing in one lobe, that was my sign for a therapy shift towards antibiotics.

My personal feeling is that consolidations are more reliable than just the number of B-lines, and correlated better with my symptoms. Actually, after 3 weeks from the symptom onset, after recovering and testing negative for SARS-CoV-2, I still had several areas with scattered and coalescent B-lines, as well as thickening of the pleural line. We have to be more flexible and take into account other parameters (i.e. oximetry), rather than rely solely on the number of affected areas on ultrasound, to compose the clinical picture, and influence the management.

As I remarked before, what impresses me most about this disease is the ultrasound dynamism. After having recovered, I still had new areas of thickening of pleural line that appeared in the back (asymptomatic) for the following week (4th), and almost 5 weeks after, I still had one plaque. And after 5 weeks, I am still surprised to have unnoticed findings, such as an asymptomatic pericardial effusion.

As a firm sonobeliever, I found it extremely useful to monitor my disease for sonographic progression and or resolution, and quickly detect complications. After this experience and having returned to work, I would have no excuse to irradiate my patients before scanning them, in the same way I went through.

Definitely, this experience was the best lesson I could have before returning to the trenches.

 

Yale Tung Chen, MD, PhD, is an associate professor at Universidad Alfonso X El Sabio, in Madrid, Spain. He was diagnosed with COVID-19 and shared his symptoms and ultrasound images each day on Twitter @yaletung. Follow his thread at #mycoviddiary.

Interested in reading about topics that could be of interest during the COVID-19 pandemic? Check out the following posts from the Scan:

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