A new study details another asymptomatic manifestation of new coronavirus infection. The scientists looked at stool samples from patients with COVID-19 and found that the virus was still present in the intestines without causing gastrointestinal symptoms. The virus survives even longer in the intestines than in the lungs, and the virus continues to replicate in the intestines even after being removed from the patient’s lungs. The researchers believe the findings could help future screening and treatment options.
The scientists looked at stool samples from patients with COVID-19 and found that the virus was still present in the intestines without causing gastrointestinal symptoms. The virus survives even longer in the intestines than in the lungs, and can continue to spread even after the virus in the respiratory tract is cleared.
COVID-19 is seen as a respiratory disease that mainly affects the lungs, but the virus also has a direct impact on the body’s rich vascular system, heart and other organs such as the brain. Researchers from Chinese University of Hong Kong published their findings in the medical journal Gut through Bloomberg, concluding that the results are disturbing but could also help doctors find new ways to diagnose COVID-19 more quickly.
The researchers looked at stool samples from 15 patients and found that seven of them had an infection. However, these patients did not show any symptoms consistent with pathogen-infected intestines, and no nausea, diarrhea, or other gastrointestinal symptoms. Six days after PCR testing began with COVID-19 negative results, the intestines remained active.
Researcher Siew Chien Ng said in a statement that the findings “highlight the importance of long-term new coronavirus and health surveillance, as well as the potential threat of fecal-mouth virus transmission.”
Patients who have been declared cured after a nasal swab test have been tested negative, and if the virus continues to multiply in the intestines, it can theoretically still infect others through feces contact. Previous studies have shown that aerosols in bathrooms can spread infections to others who share the same toilet with infected people.
Since March, the university has offered free screening tests to passengers arriving at the airport, and the program appears to be working. With the help of these tests, they detected six infected children in more than 2,000 samples.
The researchers explained that the study could also guide doctors in treating diseases and help them develop new treatments, including regulating the composition and function of the gut microbiome. Gut bacteria from patients who are still contagious show the loss of protective microorganisms and the proliferation of microorganisms harmful to the host. Ensuring that the virus does not exist in the intestines also helps prevent potential transmission through the same dung-mouth transmission mechanism.
As with the COVID-19 study, more research is needed to validate these findings. But the study further suggests that once a respiratory infection is no longer detected through PCR testing, the virus may not disappear from the body. Some COVID-19 survivors still develop symptoms within weeks to months of their initial infection, even after they first test negative for the virus. It is not clear whether the “long-term COVID” symptoms in some people are related to the continued presence of the virus in the intestines.