• What GI Physicians Need to Know During COVID-19 Pandemic

      Thuluvath, Paul J.; Alukal, Joseph J.; Ravindran, Nishal; Satapathy, Sanjaya K. (Springer Nature, 2020-10-05)
      The worldwide pandemic of COVID-19, caused by the virus SARS-CoV-2, continues to cause significant morbidity and mortality in both low- and high-income countries. Although COVID-19 is predominantly a respiratory illness, other systems including gastrointestinal (GI) system and liver may be involved because of the ubiquitous nature of ACE-2 receptors in various cell lines that SARS-CoV-2 utilizes to enter host cells. It appears that GI symptoms and liver enzyme abnormalities are common in COVID-19. The involvement of the GI tract and liver correlates with the severity of disease. A minority (10–20%) of patients with COVID-19 may also present initially with only GI complaints. The most common GI symptoms are anorexia, loss of smell, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Viral RNA can be detected in stool in up to 50% of patients, sometimes even after pharyngeal clearance, but it is unclear whether fecal–oral transmission occurs. Liver enzymes are elevated, usually mild (2–3 times), in a substantial proportion of patients. There are many confounding factors that could cause liver enzyme abnormalities including medications, sepsis, and hypoxia. Although infection rates in those with preexisting liver disease are similar to that of general population, once infected, patients with liver disease are more likely to have a more severe disease and a higher mortality. There is a paucity of objective data on the optimal preventive or management strategies, but few recommendations for GI physicians based on circumstantial evidence are discussed.