Although COVID-19 is characterized by fever and respiratory symptoms, some patients have no or mild symptoms. SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in feces of patients. We investigated gastrointestinal symptoms and shedding of virus into feces of patients with asymptomatic or mild COVID-19.
We collected data from 46 patients (median age, 26 years; 46% men) with asymptomatic or mild COVID-19 (without fever and pneumonia) and prolonged respiratory shedding of SARS-CoV-2, quarantined from April 4, 2020 through April 24, 2020 in Korea. Respiratory specimens included upper respiratory specimens (nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swabs) and lower respiratory specimens (sputum) and were collected twice per week. The median interval between COVID-19 diagnosis to the start of fecal sample collection was 37 days (range, 29-41); 213 stool specimens were collected from 46 patients. We used real-time reverse transcription PCR to detect SARS-CoV-2 in the respiratory and fecal specimens.
Gastrointestinal manifestations were observed in 16 of the 46 patients (35%); diarrhea was the most common (15%), followed by abdominal pain (11%), dyspepsia (11%), and nausea (2%). Virus RNA was detected in feces from 2 patients without gastrointestinal symptoms (4%). Mean cycle threshold values from the time of quarantine to the time of fecal collection tended to be lower in patients with virus detected in fecal samples than patients without virus in fecal samples (29.91 vs 33.67 in the first week; 29.47 vs 35.71 in the fifth week, respectively). Shedding of virus into feces persisted until day 50 after diagnosis; fecal samples began to test negative before or at approximately the time that respiratory specimens also began to test negative.
In an analysis of fecal and respiratory specimens from patients with COVID-19 in quarantine in Korea, we found that the gastrointestinal tract could be a route of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 even in patients with asymptomatic or mild disease, with no gastrointestinal symptoms. The viral load of the respiratory specimens appears be related to shedding of the virus into feces in this group of patients.
Copyright © 2020 AGA Institute. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.