Severe COVID-19 infection potentially devastating for gut health

In the seemingly endless list of body parts affected by COVID-19 infection, add the gut to the top of the list. A study from the United Kingdom suggests severe COVID-19 illness can cause significant damage to your gut’s immune system.

In a healthy gut, lymphoid tissue help keep the trillions of microbial inhabitants that call your microbiome home in order. But some lymphoid tissues that line the small intestines and maintain microbial communities, known as Peyer’s Patches, were negatively impacted by a severe COVID-19 infection. It did not matter whether the virus was physically in the gut or not.

Researchers have started paying more attention to the gut and its connection to COVID-19 infection as many symptoms — diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting — are related to the GI tract.

“This study shows that in severe COVID-19, this key component of the immune system is disrupted, whether the intestine itself is infected with SARS-CoV-2 or not. This would likely contribute to the disturbances in intestinal microbial populations in COVID-19 reported by others,” Jo Spencer, a professor at King’s College London and study coauthor explains in a media release.

The researchers observed structural and cellular changes to Peyer’s Patches in patients who died from a severe COVID-19 infection. Among these changes was the decrease in germinal centers which are involved in creating antibody-producing cells. They predict the loss of regulation could lead to a decrease in microbial diversity.

“In the future it will be important to understand factors driving such lymphoid tissue dysregulation in severe inflammatory responses,” concludes Professor Spencer.

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology.


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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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