June 3, 2020

Many Coronavirus Patients Have Gastrointestinal Symptoms

Scientists and doctors are learning more about coronavirus every day. Advice about diagnosing and preventing this illness has been changing too. At first researchers thought the virus didn’t spread very far in the air; now they think it can travel up to 27 feet in a cough or sneeze. Now they are finding that many coronavirus patients have gastrointestinal symptoms similar to food poisoning.

Many Coronavirus Patients Have Gastrointestinal Symptoms

A study of 206 COVID-19 positive patients in China were studied last month. The results showed that doctors should be looking for GI symptoms as well as respiratory symptoms. Of those 206 patients, 46% had digestive symptoms, including loss of appetite (83.8%), diarrhea (29.3%), vomiting (8.1)% and abdominal pain (4%). Many patients also reported loss of the sense of smell (anosmia) and taste (dysgeusia). About 3% of patients had only GI symptoms.

Furthermore, patients who had these GI symptoms had a longer time from disease onset to hospital admission, and the the patients were more sick than those who did not have any GI symptoms. Doctors think that COVID-19 infection in the intestines may prompt a more severe respiratory response by activating an enzyme in the liver. Patients with no GI symptoms were more likely to be cured and discharged sooner.

Other studies are showing that the virus is present in stool of infected patients. Viral RNA has been found in feces of infected patients. And this may mean that the virus can be spread through fecal-oral transmission. And GI symptoms and potential transmission can last even after the virus has been cleared from the respiratory tract.

Healthcare workers should look for digestive symptoms as well as the typical respiratory symptoms such as dry cough, fever, and difficulty breathing in coronavirus patients. Diagnosing a case via GI distress may allow for earlier detection, which can protect others as well as offer potentially better outcomes. This is a preliminary study, and as others are conducted these recommendations may change.

 

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