New Study Suggests People With Heartburn More Susceptible To COVID-19

25 Jan, 2021 F.J. Thomas


Sarasota, FL ( – So far, eating or drinking has been considered a safe activity as little to no evidence has suggested that food or drinks transmit the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Even in cases where it potentially could, the virus would be neutralized by stomach acid. While that might be true for individuals with a healthy intestinal tract, new evidence shows that’s not necessarily the case for people with heartburn and other issues. A new study from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis suggests that people with upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract issues may be more susceptible to COVID-19 if they swallow the virus.

In a healthy person, the SARS-CoV-2 virus cannot attach to the cells in the esophagus. When a person has chronic heartburn and develops gastric reflux disease, the lining of the esophagus is damaged. The esophageal cells change over time and begin to resemble intestinal cells. Intestinal cells have receptors, which unlike the esophageal cells allow for attachment of a virus. Additionally, many people with gastric reflux disease are on proton pump inhibitors to reduce the acid that essentially keeps the virus from passing through.

Researchers at Washington University studied the tissue of 30 patients with Barrett’s Esophagus.  All the tissue samples contained receptors for the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The researchers then built and cultured mini esophaguses or organoids in a dish from the Barrett’s tissue and other healthy tissue to see how the model organoids interacted with the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The virus was able to bind with and infect the organoid tissue from the Barrett’s samples. Additionally, the more resemblance there was to intestinal tissue, the more the virus was able to bind and infect the sample.

While the focus of COVID-19 has been on respiratory transmission, infected patients have commonly experienced abdominal pain and diarrhea. Additionally, the virus has been detected in the stool of patients. In fact, in a study of 42 patients confirmed cases of which only 8 had gastrointestinal symptoms, a total of 28 specimens contained SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the stool specimens, and 18 remained positive after a negative swab.

One in five people have gastric reflux disease. With such a high rate of the condition,  Washington University lead researcher Jason C. Mills, MD, PhD believes the connection should be studied further stating, “There is no evidence yet that people with Barrett’s esophagus have higher rates of COVID-19 or are at any greater risk, but part of the reason is because that hasn’t been studied.”


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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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