WikiDoc Resources for COVID-19-associated diarrhea
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Main article: COVID-19
For COVID-19 frequently asked inpatient questions, click here
For COVID-19 frequently asked outpatient questions, click here
Synonyms and keywords:
SARS-CoV-2 mainly causes severe acute respiratory syndrome but may also present with gastrointestinal symptoms like diarrhea. It invades through the Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and the serine protease TMPRSS2 receptors present abundantly not only in the lungs but also in the enterocytes of the small intestine. A greater prevalence of diarrhea was observed in patients with severe COVID-19 when compared to non-severe disease. Likewise, patients with gastrointestinal symptoms were more likely to have a severe respiratory disease with ARDS requiring ventilatory support. The presence of the virus in the stool raises suspicion for fecal-oral transmission of SARS-CoV-2. Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used while handling sources of contamination like feces.
- The etiological agent is SARS-CoV-2, named for the similarity of its symptoms to those induced by the severe acute respiratory syndrome, causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is a virus identified as the cause of an outbreak of respiratory illness first detected in Wuhan, China.
- The growing number of patients however, suggest that human-to-human transmission is actively occurring.
- The outbreak was declared a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020.
- On March 12, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.
There is no established system for the classification of diarrhea in COVID-19.
- SARS-CoV-2 uses the Angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) and the serine protease TMPRSS2 receptors for cell entry.
- These receptors are present abundantly not only in the lungs but also in the enterocytes of the small intestine.
- Other sites of receptor expression in the gastrointestinal tract are-the upper esophagus, liver, and colon. 
- Entry of the virus causes disruption of the enterocytes and may lead to inflammation and alteration of intestinal permeability.
- COVID-19 is being treated by a trial of many different antivirals and antibiotics.
- Diarrhea could also be a result of an alteration of the gut microbiota due to any of these. 
Diarrhea in a patient hospitalized due to COVID-19 may be due to:
- COVID-19 associated diarrhea
- Secondary bacterial infections
- Clostridium difficile diarrhea and recent use of antibiotics
- Other infectious causes
Differentiating COVID-19 associated diarrhea from other Diseases
COVID-19 diarrhea must be differentiated from other diseases that cause diarrhea, such as:
- Secondary bacterial infections
- Clostridium difficile associated diarrhea
- Viral causes
- Parasitic causes
To review the differential diagnosis of diarrhea due to various organisms, click here.
To review the differential diagnosis of diarrhea, click here.
Epidemiology and Demographics
- Diarrhea is an uncommon gastrointestinal symptom (anorexia, nausea, and vomiting are more common) in patients with COVID-19 but may be the presenting symptom in a few patients.
- The frequency of occurrence of diarrhea varies between 1%-35%. 
- It varies widely between different studies, likely due to the different criteria used to define diarrhea.
- Greater prevalence of diarrhea was noted in patients with severe COVID-19 when compared to non-severe disease.
- Likewise, patients with gastrointenstinal symptoms were more likely to have severe respiratory disease with ARDS requiring ventilatory support.  
- There is no data on predilection based on age, gender, geographical location, or race.
Common risk factors in the development of gastrointestinal symptoms in patients with COVID-19 infection include:
- Inflammatory bowel disease patients- due to use to glucocorticoids, but not TNF-alpha inhibitors 
- Increasing age
- Other comorbidities such as HTN, DM
- Use of glucocorticoids
- There is insufficient evidence to recommend routine screening in detecting covid associated diarrhea.
Natural History, Complications, and Prognosis
- Presence of diarrheal symptoms in covid-19 infection is associated with severe form of disease.
- Severe or poor prognostic form of disease can be described as ARDS requiring ventilatory support.
Diagnostic Study of Choice
- COVID-19 diarrhea can be diagnosed based on the history of diarrhea and a positive stool test for SARS-CoV-2
- There are no established criteria for the diagnosis of diarrhea in COVID-19.
History and Symptoms
- Diarrhea can be defined as passing of >3 loose stools per day.
- Diarrhea was the primary symptom at the onset of COVID-19 infection at onset and the symptoms lasted for approximately 4 days.
- The duration of diarrhea ranged from 2-4 days with 3-8 bowel movements per day, according to various studies. 
- There is not enough data from other studies on the number of evacuations, consistency of stool, and duration of symptoms.
- Patients with diarrhea due to COVID-19 usually appear very sick, since diarrhea is seen in a greater percentage of patients with severe respiratory disease than non-severe disease. 
- Physical examination due to diarrhea may be remarkable for:
Laboratory findings consistent with the diagnosis of covid-19 associated diarrhea include complete blood count, glucose levels, white blood cells (WBC) detection, urine analysis, calcium levels, Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels, complete metabolic panel and stool examination.
- Stool examination includes the following:
- An ECG may be helpful in the diagnosis of COVID-19 associated diarrhea. Findings on an ECG suggestive of diarrhea include sinus tachycardia.
- The chest x ray findings in a suspected case of coronavirus infection can mimic the findings in pneumonia, which can include:
Echocardiography or Ultrasound
- Abdominal CT scan may be helpful in the diagnosis of COVID-19 associated diarrhea.
- Findings on CT scan suggestive of diarrhea associated with COVID-19 infection include peri-intestinal inflammatory reaction.
- There are no MRI findings associated with diarrhea in COVID-19
Other Imaging Findings
- There are no other imaging findings associated with diarrhea in COVID-19.
Other Diagnostic Studies
Other diagnostic studies for COVID-19 associated diarrhea include:
- Infectious virions released from the GI tract can be monitored by real-time reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR)
- A study by Xiao et al assessed the clinical significance of measuring SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the feces. 
- The fecal test remained positive until 12 days after the disease onset in patients with diarrhea.
- Notably, stool test for viral RNA remained positive despite negative respiratory tests. This suggests the possibility of gastrointestinal transmission via the fecal-oral route despite clearance from the respiratory tract.
- It was recommended transmission-based precautions for hospitalized COVID-19 patients should be continued till the rRT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2 turns negative.
- Supportive management is the mainstay of treatment.
- Rehydration, fluid repletion, and potassium monitoring are essential.
- Use of probiotics may have a role if the diarrhea is being caused by alteration of the gut microbiome.
- This could also be potentially useful in preventing secondary bacterial infections by restoring the gut microbiota. 
- Effective measures for the primary prevention of COVID-19 include::
- Frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using a alcohol based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
- Staying at least 6 feet (about 2 arms’ length) from other people who do not live with you
- Covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others and covering sneezes and coughs
- Cleaning and disinfecting
- There have been rigorous efforts in order to develop a vaccine for novel coronavirus and several vaccines are in the later phases of trials.
Prevention of transmission through gastrointenstinal tract
- Presence of the virus in the stool raises suspicion for fecal-oral transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
- Appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) must be used while handling sources of contamination like feces.
- Elective appointments and endoscopies should be rescheduled and extreme care must be taken by health care professionals of the endoscopy units to avoid spreading the virus from one patient to another. 
- Patients listed for fecal microbiota transplantation and donors should be screened for the SARS-CoV-2.
- Effective measures for the secondary prevention of COVID-19 include:
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