A pair of Chinese doctors who contracted COVID-19 while treating patients has made headlines after developing dark skin following their return from the brink of death.
Dr. Yi Fan and Dr. Hu Weifeng, colleagues of the late coronavirus whistleblower Dr. Li Wenliang, acquired the infection while working at the Wuhan Central Hospital in January.
The physicians, both 42, were diagnosed with the disease on Jan. 18, according to CCTV. They were initially taken to the Wuhan Pulmonary Hospital and subsequently transferred to the Zhongfa Xincheng branch of Tongji Hospital.
There, they received extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a life support machine that pumps blood from the patient’s body to an artificial lung that adds oxygen to it and eliminates carbon dioxide. While it does not cure COVID-19, it helps the patients “breathe,” and, in theory, live much longer.
Cardiologist Dr. Yi, who spent 39 days hooked to ECMO, has recovered from COVID-19. He is out of the intensive care unit and is being taken care of in a regular ward.
Dr. Hu, on the other hand, is in a more serious condition. The urologist underwent ECMO for 43 days and regained his ability to speak on April 11, but he remains in the intensive care unit.
In an unusual development, both doctors saw their skin turn dark. Dr. Li Shusheng, who treated Dr. Hu, reportedly stated that such discoloration could be a side effect of one drug the doctors have previously taken.
The drug in question is an antibiotic called polymyxin B, which produces the unique adverse effect, according to Beijing News. Once the medication is discontinued, the skin is expected to return to normal.
An unidentified physician from the People’s Hospital of Wuhan University offered another explanation. While COVID-19 typically damages the lungs, it also affects other organs such as the liver. According to the doctor, damage in the liver could lead to issues in skin pigmentation.
“When iron enters the body, it is metabolized and stored by the liver. However, if the liver has been damaged and unable to function normally, there will be an excess of iron,” the doctor told reporters, according to Beijing Daily.
“There will be an increased amount of iron in the blood. This can easily cause a dark complexion,” the doctor added. “Prolonged abnormal liver function can cause metabolic problems, which can lead to dull skin pigmentation.”
Regardless of the exact cause of their skin discoloration, Dr. Yi and Dr. Hu are expected to return to normal with gradual recovery.