The bacteria lurking in the gut of COVID-19 may play a role in how sick they get from the disease, according to new research.
Although coronavirus is primarily a respiratory disease, there is growing evidence that the gastrointestinal tract is involved, said researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The team studied samples from 100 patients treated at two hospitals in Hong Kong to see how the so-called microbiome in the digestive system can affect recovery from the deadly bug.
“The intestinal microbiome composition was significantly altered in patients with COVID-19 compared to non-COVID-19 individuals, regardless of whether patients had received medication,”
“Based on several patients examined in this study for up to 30 days after purification of SARS-CoV-2, the intestinal microbiota is likely to remain significantly altered following recovery from COVID-19,” they said.
The researchers said that patients with severe disease show high plasma concentrations of inflammatory cytokines and inflammatory markers – and that there is “significant involvement” of the gastrointestinal tract during infection, given “altered intestinal microbiota composition in SARS-CoV-2-infected subjects.”
Cytokines, which are molecules that allow your cells to talk to each other, play a vital role in a healthy immune system. However, too many cytokines can result in what is called a “cytokine storm”.
“These results suggest that the intestinal microbiota composition is associated with the size of the immune response to COVID-19 and subsequent tissue damage and thus could play a role in regulating the severity of the disease,” they wrote.
The researchers also found that because a small subset of patients showed intestinal microbiota dysbiosis or imbalance, even 30 days after recovery, this could be a potential explanation for why some symptoms persist in what is called long COVID.