Globally renowned gastroenterologist and epidemiologist Laureate Professor Nick Talley AC has warned that people who have existing gut disorders are at greater risk of getting more severe coronavirus symptoms.
While that is partly due to being immuno-compromised, the gastrointestinal tract itself can be directly targeted by COVID-19 infection in the same way as the lungs, heart and other organs are.
“The gut itself is affected because there are ACE2 receptors where the virus can attach and spread,” Laureate Professor Talley, a distinguished HMRI researcher from the University of Newcastle, says. “It then commonly manifests as diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, and appetite loss, all related to gut involvement.
“The virus can also be passed out in stool, although we suspect the infectiousness in this case is considerably reduced. But it’s another good reason for washing and sanitising your hands, to reduce the risk of transmission.”
As an expert in neurogastroenterology, inflammation and infection, Professor Talley is also exploring whether mental health issues related to the pandemic can influence the complex brain-gut nexus.
“Recent data has highlighted elevated levels of stress and anxiety amongst the general population, which has previously been shown to impair the immune system,” he adds. “Also, we don't know whether that stress reaction and the virus combined can lead to lingering problems with the gut.
“It's possible, and something that's under research scrutiny at the moment.”