Any virus has the capability to damage healthy living cells and multiply itself. The novel coronavirus-SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) primarily attacks linings of the airways in the cells thus impacting the respiratory tract. The disease presents a spectrum of symptoms, from mild fever and cough to pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome in the most severe cases.
However, what is unnerving about the infection is that, it’s effects remain not just limited to the respiratory system only. It has been observed that in COVID-19, other organs such as the gastrointestinal (GI) tract and liver seem to be targeted by the virus as well. Findings based on Chinese patients in Wuhan province indicate that the disease severity can cause hematological changes and even worsen the condition of patients with digestive system diseases.
How COVID-19 affect the Gastrointestinal System?
The Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE), is a prominent enzyme that helps regulate blood pressure. A subtype of this enzyme, ACE2 acts as a potential target of the virus thus transmitting SARS-CoV-2 to humans. ACE2 is found not only highly expressed in the lung alveolar type 2 cells but also found in oesophagus (food pipe), absorptive enterocytes from ileum (small intestine) and colon (large intestine). It is also found in the liver and biliary system. Upon getting infected with the SARS-CoV-2 ACE fails to work properly thus causing several bodily issues like loss of appetite, Nausea and vomiting. Also, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and the other GI symptoms.
What are the risks associated with it?
The SARS-CoV-2 virus when attacks the digestive tract, symptoms like Diarrhoea, abdominal pain and sometimes, vomiting can be presented. The complications associated with these symptoms come into effect resulting in dehydration and loss of electrolytes from the body. The condition, if progressed, can lead to severe weakness and can turn out to be fatal. It is therefore advised to keep a check on the loss of water and electrolytes from the body and replenish the losses.
Further to this, it has been confirmed that a COVID-19 patient can continue to shed the Virus RNA in stools despite getting cured of respiratory ailments. So, the role of the feco-oral route of acquiring the infection cannot be neglected and one needs to follow hygienic practices after using toilets to check disease transmission.
Any other concerns?
Liver dysfunction has been observed in patients with severe COVID-19 disease. An abnormality in liver function blood test is generally found in COVID-19 symptomatic patients. Studies are still underway to find out more about COVID-19’s impact on the liver.
As of now, observations highlight the gastrointestinal and hepatic (related to the liver) involvement in COVID-19 patients; however, the final outcome or recovery depends primarily on the management of lung issues. The development of GI symptoms does not indicate the severity of COVID-19 disease.