April 13, 2021

Could we be swallowing Covid-19?

Coronavirus researchers have now found that the deadly virus can infect the mouth, spreading inside the cheeks, in salivary glands, and gums. 


These findings are particularly important in understanding Covid-19 and why those infected with it lose their sense of taste. Simultaneously, they also highlight the fact that the mouth plays an important part in spreading the virus through infected oral tissue cells.


One of the researchers on this study, Dr. Kevin Byrd of the American Dental Association Science and Research Institute, states,


“When infected saliva is swallowed or tiny particles of it are inhaled, we think it can potentially transmit SARS-CoV-2 further into our throats, our lungs, or even our guts.” 


Saliva testing is the established method of checking for Covid-19, but researchers had not yet studied the reasons behind it. We know that the nose, mouth, throat, lungs, and sinuses are well-linked and that the virus can effectively spread throughout those areas via draining or coughed up mucus.


The researchers studied oral tissue and discovered that the cells inside the mouth have certain receptors that coronavirus cannot spread the infection without. They then studied oral tissue samples from patients who had died of the disease and found the virus in nearly fifty percent of the tested salivary glands.


The team also carried out their test samples from people with mild or asymptomatic Covid-19. They learned that cells shed by the mouth and into the saliva contained active RNA. That in itself is an indication that the virus replicates and multiplies inside the cells. 


In addition to this, the researchers found that the saliva itself can also be infectious. 


Importantly, this study also found that while people can test negative on a nasal swab, they can continue to test positive from a saliva test. That is to say, that just because the virus appears to be out of a patient’s nasopharynx, doesn’t necessarily mean the patient has no more traces of the virus in their body. The researchers stated:


“These data highlight the possibility that the virus is cleared from the nasopharynx but can persist in saliva, suggesting sustained shedding of virus from SARS-CoV-2 infected oral sites.” 


Dr. Blake Warner of the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, one of the National Institutes of Health, who assisted in leading the study spoke of the pivotal significance of its findings,


"By revealing a potentially underappreciated role for the oral cavity in SARS-CoV-2 infection, our study could open up new investigative avenues leading to a better understanding of the course of infection and disease. Such information could also inform interventions to combat the virus and alleviate oral symptoms of COVID-19."


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