Virus In Stomach, Digestive Tract Not A Cause For Concern Says Expert

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By KCBS All News 106.9FM and 740AM

A recent study suggests that the novel coronavirus can linger in the digestive tract even after the virus is no longer present in the lungs.

A study of 73 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in China found that half had virus in their stool, and stool samples tested positive for the virus for about a week after respiratory samples were negative. 

But one local expert says it is not clear if that finding has any practical meaning for patients.

“It could mean that you ingested it or you just swallowed your spit, essentially, and it got picked up in the GI tract,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, infectious disease specialist at UCSF on KCBS Radio’s “Ask An Expert” segment Monday.

Dr. Chin-Hong says the main mode of transmission still appears to be from the virus making it into someone’s mouth or nose, and from there transferring to the lungs.

“It gets to the idea of whether or not you can get COVID from eating contaminated food. I would say that from the data, it doesn’t seem to be a predominant mode of transmission,” he said. “I don’t worry too much personally about eating contaminated food and getting infection that way.”

It is not yet known if the virus can survive in the stomach, which is acidic. Dr. Chin-Hong says in infected patients, the virus is far more prevalent in the lungs.

“It’s a respiratory virus. It’s really trying to find its five-star hotel, which is the mouth and the nose,” he said. “If it just lands in the GI tract it’s just like, ‘damn this place is too hot, I want to get out of here’.”

He says that is why public health experts stress the importance of wearing face coverings and avoiding poorly ventilated spaces, but eating takeout is considered relatively low risk.