Digestive Issues Like Vomiting And Diarrhea Could Be First Signs Of Coronavirus, New Study Finds

A coronavirus clinic at a hospital.
Mark Metcalfe / Getty Images

A new study that looked at coronavirus patients in one of the hardest-hit areas of China found that while the virus more frequently strikes the respiratory system, the first signs for many patients actually appeared in the digestive tract.

As The New York Post reported, close to half the patients admitted to the hospital in the Chinese province of Hubei were complaining of digestive issues like vomiting and diarrhea as their chief symptom. The study found that close to 7 percent of patients never experienced any respiratory symptoms, which experts have said are the hallmarks of COVID-19.

The research could have ramifications for the early detection of the virus. The nearly 49 percent who did suffer digestive issues sought treatment later than those who did not, the study found. Researchers said this could have implications for the diagnosis and suppression of the virus, calling on doctors to act sooner on patients who first present with digestive issues rather than waiting to see respiratory symptoms emerge.

“Clinicians should recognize that digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, may be a presenting feature of COVID-19,” researchers concluded.

As U.S. News and World Report noted, patients with digestive symptoms had a longer than average time between the initial onset of symptoms and hospital admission when compared to patients without digestive symptoms — by close to two days. According to the report, this suggested that patients with digestive symptoms waited longer to seek medical care because they did not suspect they contracted the novel coronavirus as they did not have respiratory symptoms that medical experts have warned people to watch out for.

Researchers have been in a rush to learn more about the virus, including how it affects patients and how it spreads. As the National Institutes of Health reported this week, the virus is able to remain stable for several hours both in the air and on surfaces.

“The scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel,” the agency noted. “The results provide key information about the stability of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease, and suggests that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.”

Medical researchers are also working on a vaccine for COVID-19 but said it will likely take between 12 and 18 months to complete.