Radiologists Describe Coronavirus Effect on the Lungs

What radiologists should know about the outbreak of new respiratory illness

On Dec. 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) learned of several cases of a respiratory illness clinically resembling viral pneumonia and manifesting as fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The newly discovered virus emerging from Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China, was temporarily named “novel coronavirus” (2019-nCoV). It is now known officially as COVID-19. This new coronavirus belongs to a family of viruses that include Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

The outbreak is escalating quickly, with hundreds of thousands of confirmed COVID-19 cases reported globally. On Jan. 30, the U.S. reported the first confirmed instance of person-to-person spread of the virus.

Due to the current shortage of nucleic acid testing kits used to confirm the presence of COVID-19, CT scans have become the first line of defense in diagnosing a suspected infection. Early disease recognition is critical not only for prompt treatment, but also for patient isolation and effective public health containment and response.

RSNA has gathered peer-reviewed cases of COVID-19 to provide the global radiology community with a free diagnostic resource to help prevent the spread of this outbreak.

RSNA Resources

Coronavirus Fig. B color
Images in a 41-year-old woman who presented with fever and positive polymerase chain reaction assay for the 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). Three representative axial thin-section chest CT images show multifocal ground glass opacities without consolidation. Three-dimensional volume-rendered reconstruction shows the distribution of the ground-glass opacities (arrows). See also the three-dimensional movie.

CDC Information

Chinese health officials have reported thousands of infections with COVID-19 in China, with the virus reportedly spreading from person-to-person in many parts of that country. Infections with COVID-19, most of them associated with travel from Wuhan, also are being reported in a growing number of international locations, including the United States.

As of Feb. 14, 2020, a change in diagnosis criteria has added numerous COVID-19 cases reported. Until now, cases had only been confirmed by lab tests finding the virus in swab samples from patients. But in Hubei province, China, patients with CT chest imaging showing the signature pneumonia seen in COVID-19 cases over the last several weeks were just added to the case totals. 

As of Feb. 25, 2020, a total of 80,239 confirmed COVID-19 cases have been reported globally and there have been 2,700 deaths.

The complete clinical picture with regard to COVID-19 is still not fully clear. Current symptoms reported for patients with COVID-19 have included mild to severe respiratory illness with fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Coronaviruses can sometimes cause lower-respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis. This is more common in people with cardiopulmonary disease, people with weakened immune systems, infants and older adults. Learn more about the symptoms associated with COVID-19.

CDC has provided Interim Guidance for Health Care Professionals and has issued an updated interim Health Alert Notice (HAN) Advisory to inform state and local health departments and health care providers about this outbreak.