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COVID-19 infection damages gut microbiome, study shows

By Dennis Thompson, HealthDay News
A test sample awaits shipment at a COVID-19 Community-Based Testing Site at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey, on March 20, 2020. File Photo by Spc. Michael Schwenk/U.S. Army National Guard/UPI
A test sample awaits shipment at a COVID-19 Community-Based Testing Site at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey, on March 20, 2020. File Photo by Spc. Michael Schwenk/U.S. Army National Guard/UPI | License Photo

COVID-19 is known to mess with a person's lungs, and can have long-term effects on the brain.

Now doctors have found another way COVID-19 harms your health -- through your gut.

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A COVID infection can reduce the number of bacterial species in the gut, creating an opportunity for dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria to thrive, according to a new study in the journal Nature Communications.

"Our findings suggest that coronavirus infection directly interferes with the healthy balance of microbes in the gut, further endangering patients in the process," said study co-senior author Ken Cadwell, a microbiologist at NYU Grossman School of Medicine in New York City.

RELATED COVID-19 symptoms can return with or without treatment

An unhealthy gut leaves a person vulnerable to life-threatening diarrhea from harmful bacteria like C. difficile. It also can cause other health problems like bloating and acid reflux.

The study is the first to show that COVID-19 alone damages the gut microbiome, researchers said. Before now, doctors had suspected that the use of antibiotics to treat COVID had been damaging gut bacteria.

Analysis of nearly 100 men and women hospitalized with COVID in 2020 found that most patients had low gut microbiome diversity. In fact, full quarter had guts dominated by a single type of bacteria, the researchers found.

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At the same time, populations of several potentially harmful microbes increased. Some antibiotic-resistant bacteria had migrated into the bloodstream of 20% of patients.

"Now that we have uncovered the source of this bacterial imbalance, physicians can better identify those coronavirus patients most at risk of a secondary bloodstream infection," Cadwell said in an NYU news release.

The findings were published Tuesday.

RELATED Long COVID strikes 15% of U.S. adults who test positive, researchers estimate

More information

The Cleveland Clinic has more about gut health.

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