A common early warning sign for those suffering from coronavirus could put them in a unique “sub group” of infected patients, a study claims.
An examination of 206 patients who were admitted in February into Union Hospital in Wuhan, China, where the outbreak began, has revealed diarrhoea and other digestive issues is an early, and sometimes only, symptom of the virus in those with a mild infection.
With more than 80 per cent of patients contracting a less severe form of the disease, the study, published by the American Journal of Gastroenterology, aimed at identifying the “unique sub-group’s” symptoms so patients to not unknowingly infect others.
The group of mild patients with digestive problems, with or without respiratory symptoms, were compared to a group presenting only respiratory issues until they were cleared of the virus.
Director of health research services at Los Angeles’ Cedars-Sinai Health System, Dr. Brennan Spiegel, who co-authored the study, told Today “COVID-19 is not just a cough”, according to 7 News.
“Of course, we’re very focused on the lungs because that’s what can cause people to die. But this virus, if it gets into your saliva and you swallow it, can then enter the intestinal system,” he said.
The virus targets cells through a receptor that is found in higher numbers on the upper and lower gastrointestinal tract compared to the respiratory organs, according to the study.
“If you unfurl your intestines, you have almost a tennis court worth of surface area. So you have this huge area where the virus can just start to replicate itself over and over again,” Dr Spiegel said.
“It seems that’s happening in some patients who have the GI version of this disease.”
COVID-19 ‘unique sub-group’
Out of the 206 patients, 48 people presented to hospital with digestive symptoms, 69 with both digestive and respiratory symptoms, and 89 with respiratory symptoms.
Almost 20 per cent of 67 patients who reported suffering from diarrhoea said it was their first symptom prior to respiratory issues and lasted up to two weeks, according to the study.
“The rest developed diarrhoea within the first 10 days after the onset of respiratory symptoms,” the study reads.
“In some cases, the digestive symptom, particularly diarrhoea, can be the initial presentation of COVID-19 and may only later (or never) present with respiratory symptoms.”
Ultimately, it was determined the group of patients are more likely to test positive for coronavirus through their stool, to have a longer delay before the disease clears, and experience delayed diagnosis.
“These data emphasises that patients with new-onset diarrhoea after a possible COVID-19 contact should be suspected for the illness, even in the absence of cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, or even fever. These patients should self-quarantine and seek medical care if not already under evaluation.”
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