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COVID-19 Infects Intestines, Kidneys and Other Organs, Studies Find

The new coronavirus can infect organs throughout the body, including lungs, throat, heart, liver, brain, kidneys and the intestines, researchers reported Wednesday.

Two separate reports suggest the virus goes far beyond the lungs and can attack various organs -- findings that can help explain the wide range of symptoms caused by Covid-19 infection.

The findings might help explain some of the puzzling symptoms seen in coronavirus patients. They include blood clots that cause strokes in younger people and that clog dialysis machines, headaches and kidney failure. Covid-19 is classified as a respiratory virus and is transmitted through respiratory droplets, but it can also sometimes cause diarrhea and other gastrointestinal symptoms. Researchers have found evidence of the virus in the stool of patients, and warn that it can be transmitted via what's known as the fecal-oral route. For one study, Jie Zhou and colleagues at the University of Hong Kong wanted to see how well the virus can flourish in the intestines. They grew intestinal organoids -- lab dish versions of the organs -- from both bats and people. They showed the virus not only lived in these organoids, but replicated.

"The human intestinal tract might be a transmission route of SARS-CoV-2," the team wrote in their report, published in Nature Medicine. They also found virus capable of infecting cells in stool taken from a patient with Covid-19. "A 68-year-old female patient presented with fever, sore throat and productive cough and developed diarrhea after admission to Princess Margaret Hospital," Zhou and colleagues wrote. "We isolated infectious virus from her stool specimen," they added. "Here we demonstrate active replication of SARS-CoV-2 in human intestinal organoids and isolation of infectious virus from the stool specimen of a patient with diarrheal COVID-19." Separately, a team at University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany performed autopsies on 27 patients who died from Covid-19. They found the virus in a variety of organs. "SARS-CoV-2 can be detected in multiple organs, including the lungs, pharynx, heart, liver, brain, and kidneys," they wrote in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The virus seemed to do especially well in the kidneys, they wrote -- something that might explain the high rate of kidney injury seen among Covid-19 patients.

The ability of the virus to attack various organs might aggravate pre-existing conditions, they added. People with heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease are especially vulnerable to the new coronavirus.


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