A dry cough, shortness of breath and high temperature are all hallmark symptoms of a COVID-19 infection. Recently, however, reports are suggesting that certain gastrointestinal symptoms – such as diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting – could also be an early sign of the disease. We spoke to Dr Ram Chandra Soni, one of our top consultant gastroenterologists from Faridabad to explain in more detail how the coronavirus can infect our gastro-intestinal tract and what people should do if they show symptoms.
Can digestive problems be an early sign of the covid-19 infection?
So far, approximately half of inpatients with COVID-19 have experienced digestive symptoms according to new research. These symptoms have typically shown up before the onset of a cough or fever, and may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of smell or taste
Unfortunately, many of these symptoms have been under-recognised. One reason for this lack of acknowledgement might be because without respiratory symptoms, people don’t meet the current testing criteria for COVID-19, so those affected may not be getting been identified.
How can the virus infect the gastrointestinal tract?
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that leads to the coronavirus disease, is known to actively infect the gut cell lining leading to up to half of patients having positive coronavirus stool testing. This means that the stools of COVID-19 patients are in fact potentially infectious. This raises the importance of different ways this virus may be transmitted – other than by respiratory droplets.
What should you do if you have these symptoms?
If you experience these symptoms, then a more thorough hygiene protocol is required, including:
- 20-second hand washing frequently
- Thorough disinfection of toilets and sinks after use
- Flushing the toilet with the lid down
- Trying to avoid sharing toilets with family members if at all possible
If you experience diarrhoea, which can last up to 14 days, then a bland diet and staying hydrated will be helpful for the course. Try to avoid over the counter anti-diarrhoea medications.
When should you visit a doctor during the pandemic?
Occasionally, the gut symptoms predate the typical respiratory symptoms of a dry cough, shortness of breath and fever. It is important to seek medical advice by calling gatroenterologist doctor if you are at all concerned; however, you should avoid going into a healthcare facility unless you are acutely unwell. This is a time to utilise telephone and online consultation services that most GPs are offering for further advice. Dr Ram Chandra Soni is an expert consultant gastroenterologist operating in Faridabad.