EDMONTON — It’s one of the more terrifying symptoms of COVID-19: sudden drops in oxygen levels. But research at the University of Alberta is finding out why it happens, and how to treat it.

“We are very happy to make a difference because as a scientist this is our responsibility to make a difference,” said Dr. Shokrollah Ellahi, an associate professor in the Department of Medicine and Dentistry at the university.

After long days in the lab, working 7 days a week, Elahi works on what causes hypoxia, low oxygen levels often found in COVID patients blood, sometimes happening in patients with little or no lung damage.

His research being peer-reviewed and confirmed.

READ MORE: Alberta identifies 410 new COVID-19 cases, 435 people in hospital

It comes down to immature red blood cells that are nearly undetectable in a healthy person, as they stay in your bone marrow.

“Because the body experiences low oxygen, and the body tries to compensate for the loss of cells and pumps out immature red blood cells.”

The problem, until the cell matures, is it can’t transport oxygen, and Elahi has found these immature red blood cells are highly susceptible to COVID-19 infections, and they also weaken your immune system.

But the good news: his team has shown why anti-inflammatory drugs that doctors were already using in some ICU patients, were reducing mortality and infection duration of patients with COVID-19.

READ MORE: Get whichever vaccine is available when booking second-dose appointment: infectious disease specialist

“Novel evidence, that dexamethasone has an additional benefit. Not only is it anti-inflammatory, so it reduces the inflammation, but also reduces the infectivity of the cells to the virus.”

Elahi says this treatment is mainly for those in the ICU or hospital under doctor supervision, but he does have one big recommendation.

“The most important thing is to get vaccinated.”

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