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New Research Suggests Digestive Tract Bacteria Affect Coronavirus Severity

The ultrastructural morphology exhibited by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, which was identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China, is seen in an illustration released by CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, Jan. 29, 2020.

A new study indicates the kind of bacteria found in a person’s digestive tract can affect the severity of coronavirus infections and the body’s immune response.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and published Monday in the medical journal Gut, shows there is growing evidence that the health of the human gastrointestinal tract, or gut, has direct influence on the immune system and hence its response to infections like the coronavirus.

The researchers examined 100 patients who had tested positive and divided them by the severity of their cases. Through blood and stool testing, the researchers compared the microbiome in their tracts with patients without coronavirus infections.

Across the board, the microbiome makeup differed significantly between patients with and without COVID-19. Dr. Siew Ng, one of the authors of the study, said they found “COVID-19 patients lack certain good bacteria known to regulate our immune system." The presence of an abnormal assortment of gut bacteria, or dysbiosis, can persist after the virus is gone and prolong symptoms. COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus.

Ng said her team developed an oral formula of “good” bacteria — known as probiotics — which they gave to the patients. The study showed that more COVID-19 patients who received the probiotics “achieved complete symptom resolution," and developed neutralizing antibodies to the virus.

Other researchers who have reviewed the research say more study is needed to determine whether the altered gut bacteria found in the COVID-19 patients is an effect of the disease or was already present in the patients and was an underlying cause of the disease development.