Although Covid primarily targets lungs and is majorly a respiratory disease, the virus affects nearly all organs in the human body, including the liver. A recent study led by scientists at University of Tennessee showed that up to 11 per cent of patients with Covid-19 have liver co-morbidities. And 14 per cent to 53 per cent show increased levels of liver enzymes - such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST) during the progression of the illness. Increased levels of liver enzymes can mean that a person's liver is at least temporarily damaged.
Some patients have very severe injury in the liver due to Covid. The most common are swelling in the liver, jaundice which means yellow discolouration of eyes and urine and derailment of liver function tests.
"It is commonly seen that nonspecific inflammation due to Covid is very common in the liver and manifests in various forms," Dr Shubham Vatsya, Consultant - Gastroenterology at Fortis Escorts Hospital, Faridabad, told IANS.
"A wide range of liver injuries seen in Covid infection can be completely asymptomatic. It can cause jaundice or it can cause liver failure," added Dr Jatin Agrawal, Associate Consultant, Gastroenterology. Max Hospital, Saket.
Further, people with cirrhosis (liver scarring) may be at increased risk of Covid-19. Some studies have also shown that people with pre-existing liver disease such as chronic liver disease, cirrhosis, or related complications who were diagnosed with Covid-19 are at higher risk of death than people without pre-existing liver disease.
According to Vatsya, "liver function involvement is seen with the original Covid-19 as well as the newer variants like Omicron. And vaccines have not been able to prevent the injuries related to Covid with the liver".
"Preventing the Covid infection can help prevent an injury to the liver," Agrawal told IANS.
While vaccines can reduce the severity of the Covid infection, data on whether they can prevent an injury to the liver is "very scarce", he said.
Agrawal said there are multiple ways viruses affect the liver and its functioning.
"One is the direct effect of the virus on hepatocytes chief functional cells of the liver and cholangiocytes (epithelial cells of the bile duct) via the ACE2 receptor, another is drug related. Covid storm and sepsis also affect the liver," he said.
So the most important thing for prevention is "proper nutrition, intake of a high protein diet, which includes eggs, green leafy vegetables, paneer, that would help you maintain your immunity and it is a very important metabolite for the liver as well", Vatsya said.