Donald Trump’s COVID-19 symptoms have been called “mild” by the White House, but the next 48- to 72-hours will determine the president’s fate, and the prognosis is not good.
Despite the administration’s upbeat tone, COVID-19, or coronavirus, has killed more than 200,000 people since the first death in February.
Among those who have died, about 65 percent were older than 70 and nearly 40 percent were over 80, according to The Washington Post, which is tracking cases.
About five percent were in their 40s or younger, but many more in that age group have been sick enough to be hospitalized. Of all victims, nearly 60 percent were men, the newspaper found.
Trump falls squarely in the danger zone. At 74, he has a high probability of developing serious complications, due to co-morbidities such as his obesity, high cholesterol and likely high blood pressure.
Trump is already exhibiting symptoms of the illness. He was reportedly hoarse and listless at a fundraiser earlier this week and is struggling with fatigue. He also has a fever.
His hoarseness suggests he’s at risk of developing shortness of breath, which can lead to death, especially the elderly or those with other medical conditions.
Dr. Neal Patel, a Mayo Clinic pulmonary and critical care medicine specialist, says that, like most viruses, “many different things happen.”
“Initially, the virus can cause some damage locally where it enters. Then it moves further into the respiratory system,” he says.
“If the virus enters through your nose, you may notice typical symptoms of an upper respiratory tract infection, such as a runny nose or nasal congestion,” says Patel.
“The virus may stop there or may continue down the respiratory tract, where it can cause issues such as coughing.”
Once the virus is established in the body, the immune system kicks in, swarming the infection in an attempt to kill it.
“There is an initial immune response when a virus enters a body for the first time,” says the doctor.
“It’s a generic response where the immune system turns on and says: ‘You’re not supposed to be here. I’m going to try to kill you.’ It’s not a very robust response, but it is something.”
During the immune system’s response, it starts building antibodies through a process called “adaptive immunity.”
“You build an army to take down this virus,” he explains.
In some cases, the virus finds its way into the lower respiratory tract where it can cause immeasurably more damage.
“Unfortunately, our body’s response to kill that virus in the lower respiratory tract can cause a lot of collateral damage. Sometimes it’s an exaggerated response, kind of like bringing an army to kill an ant.”
One of the most serious problems is deteriorating lung function.
“The ability to get oxygen in and out of the bloodstream becomes affected. Your muscles may become impaired and you get fatigued trying to inhale and exhale against lungs that aren’t working too well.”
Those who end up in intensive care unit may have developed a secondary infection, usually pneumonia, a condition where lungs fill with fluid.
“That type of patient may require some help,” says Patel.
“Mechanical ventilation, or a ventilator, is how we help that patient to rest a little bit. It allows them to get the oxygen they need so the body can work to calm this down and hopefully get rid of the virus.”
The virus also may cause gastrointestinal issues, such as diarrhea, which in itself, is not life threatening.
In addition to Trump, wife Melania Trump and White House staffer Hope Hicks have tested positive. Both are younger and have a better chance of weathering the disease.
Prominent Republican Herman Cain was the same age as Trump when he tested positive for the illness in June. He’d most recently attended a mass Trump rally in Tulsa, Ok., which has been widely viewed as a super spreader event.
Few in the audience, including Cain, wore masks, and the audience did not socially distance.
Cain was admitted to a hospital two days later. On July 30, Cain died from COVID-19 complications, four weeks after entering the hospital.
The same month Cain died, Trump vowed not to order Americans to wear masks to contain the spread of coronavirus and rarely wore one himself.
In contrast, the country’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has been urging state and local leaders to be “as forceful as possible” in getting people to wear masks, according to The BBC.
Trump’s actions turned wearing masks into a highly politicized issue.
Check out the video below and get more information and COVID-19 coverage from the Mayo Clinic News Network.