Covid-19: UK studies find gastrointestinal symptoms are common in children

Authors: Susan Mayor BMJ 2020; 370 doi: (Published 07 September 2020)Cite this as: BMJ 2020;370:m3484

Gastrointestinal symptoms are common in children infected with SARS-CoV-2 and should trigger tests for the virus, researchers have said.

A prospective study of 992 healthy children (median age 10.1 years) of healthcare workers from across the UK found that 68 (6.9%) tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.1 Half of the children testing positive reported no symptoms, but for those that did the commonest were fever (21 of 68, 31%); gastrointestinal symptoms, including diarrhoea, vomiting, and abdominal cramps (13 of 68, 19%); and headache (12 of 68, 18%).

Latest findings from the Covid-19 Symptom Study app,2 which was launched in late March to track people’s symptoms, also show that gastrointestinal symptoms occur frequently in children with positive swab tests.3

Tom Waterfield, lead author of the antibodies study, told The BMJ, “Based on our findings I think that gastrointestinal symptoms should be added to the current list—high temperature, cough, and loss or change in sense of smell or taste—that trigger testing for coronavirus.” He added, “Diarrhoea and vomiting in children should trigger a test.”

Modelling showed that gastrointestinal symptoms were significantly associated with the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies, in addition to known household contact with confirmed SARS-CoV-2, fatigue, and changes in sense of smell or taste.

“Although diarrhoea and vomiting may not be on the official covid-19 testing strategy, we need to be cautious in children with these symptoms,” said Waterfield, senior lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast and paediatric emergency medicine physician at the Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children. “They need to have had 48 hours clear of gastrointestinal symptoms before they go back to school to help reduce the potential spread of the virus.”

Tim Spector, the study lead and professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, said, “Looking at data from 250 000 children we found those with a positive swab test have a different range of symptoms to adults. Cough and shortness of breath are much less frequent and gastrointestinal problems, especially loss of appetite, more frequent. Fever is still a feature, as in adults.”

He said that the study confirmed the need to add a wider range of symptoms to those listed for covid-19. “Around 50% of children did not have the three core adult symptoms (high temperature, cough, and loss or change in sense of smell or taste) and may present with a wide range of non-specific symptoms, such as malaise and loss of appetite, although skin rash affected one in six,” he said. “The key is for parents to keep children at home with these non-specific signs until they feel better, until tests get more rapid and accessible.”

Spector is asking parents to start logging information for their children on the app, which invites users to report regularly on their health. He added that the team is adding school specific features to help provide data on infection rates related to schools.


  1. Waterfield T, Watson C, Moore R, et al. Seroprevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in children: a prospective multicentre cohort study. medRxiv 2020.08.31.20183095 [Preprint]. 2 September 2020.
    1. Covid Symptom Study Scholar
    1. Mayor S
    . Covid-19: Researchers launch app to track spread of symptoms in the UK. BMJ2020;368:m1263. doi:10.1136/bmj.m1263 pmid:32220898FREE Full Text

Coronavirus and the Nervous System

What is SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are common causes of usually mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses like the common cold, with symptoms that may include runny nose, fever, sore throat, cough, or a general feeling of being ill. However, a new coronavirus called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) emerged and spread to cause the COVID-19 pandemic.

COVID-19, which means Coronavirus disease 2019, is an infectious disease that can affect people of all ages in many ways. It is most dangerous when the virus spreads from the upper respiratory tract into the lungs to cause viral pneumonia and lung damage leading to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). When severe, this impairs the body’s ability to maintain critical levels of oxygen in the blood stream—which can cause multiple body systems to fail and can be fatal.

What do we know about the effects of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 on the nervous system?

Much of the research to date has focused on the acute infection and saving lives. These strategies have included preventing infection with vaccines, treating COVID-19 symptoms with medicines or antibodies, and reducing complications in infected individuals.

Research shows the many neurological symptoms of COVID-19 are likely a result of the body’s widespread immune response to infection rather than the virus directly infecting the brain or nervous system. In some people, the SARS-CoV-2 infection causes an overreactive response of the immune system which can also damage body systems. Changes in the immune system have been seen in studies of the cerebrospinal fluid, which bathes the brain, in people who have been infected by SARS-CoV-2. This includes the presence of antibodies—proteins made by the immune system to fight the virus—that may also react with the nervous system. Although still under intense investigation, there is no evidence of widespread viral infection in the brain. Scientists are still learning how the virus affects the brain and other organs in the long-term. Research is just beginning to focus on the role of autoimmune reactions and other changes that cause the set of symptoms that some people experience after their initial recovery. It is unknown if injury to the nervous system or other body organs cause lingering effects that will resolve over time, or whether COVID-19 infection sets up a more persistent or even chronic disorder.

What are the immediate (acute) effects of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 on the brain?

Most people infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus will have no or mild to moderate symptoms associated with the brain or nervous system. However, most individuals hospitalized due to the virus do have symptoms related to the brain or nervous system, most commonly including muscle aches, headaches, dizziness, and altered taste and smell. Some people with COVID-19 either initially have, or develop in the hospital, a dramatic state of confusion called delirium. Although rare, COVID-19 can cause seizures or major strokes. Muscular weakness, nerve injury, and pain syndromes are common in people who require intensive care during infections. There are also very rare reports of conditions that develop after SARS-CoV-2 infection, as they sometimes do with other types of infections. These disorders of inflammation in the nervous system include Guillain-Barré syndrome (which affects nerves), transverse myelitis (which affects the spinal cord), and acute necrotizing leukoencephalopathy (which affects the brain).

Bleeding in the brain, weakened blood vessels, and blood clots in acute infection

The SARS-CoV-2 virus attaches to a specific molecule (called a receptor) on the surface of cells in the body. This molecule is concentrated in the lung cells but is also present on certain cells that line blood vessels in the body. The infection causes some arteries and veins—including those in the brain—to  become thin, weaken, and leak. Breaks in small blood vessels have caused bleeding in the brain (so-called microbleeds) in some people with COVID-19 infection. Studies in people who have died due to COVID-19 infection show leaky blood vessels in different areas of the brain that allow water and a host of other molecules as well as blood cells that are normally excluded from the brain to move from the blood stream into the brain. This leak, as well as the resulting inflammation around blood vessels, can cause multiple small areas of damage. COVID-19 also causes blood cells to clump and form clots in arteries and veins throughout the body. These blockages reduce or block the flow of blood, oxygen, and nutrients that cells need to function and can lead to a stroke or heart attack.

stroke is a sudden interruption of continuous blood flow to the brain. A stroke occurs either when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or narrowed or when a blood vessel bursts and spills blood into the brain. Strokes can damage brain cells and cause permanent disability. The blood clots and vascular (relating to the veins, capillaries, and arteries in the body) damage from COVID-19 can cause strokes even in young healthy adults who do not have the common risk factors for stroke.

COVID-19 can cause blood clots in other parts of the body, too. A blood clot in or near the heart can cause a heart attack. A heart attack orInflammation in the heart, called myocarditis, can causeheart failure, and reduce the flow of blood to other parts of the body. A blood clot in the lungs can impair breathing and cause pain. Blood clots also can damage the kidneys and other organs.

Low levels of oxygen in the body (called hypoxia) can permanently damage the brain and other vital organs in the body. Some hospitalized individuals require artificial ventilation on respirators. To avoid chest movements that oppose use of the ventilator it may be necessary to temporarily “paralyze” the person and use anesthetic drugs to put the individual to sleep. Some individuals with severe hypoxia require artificial means of bringing oxygen into their blood stream, a technique called extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Hypoxia combined with these intensive care unit measure generally cause cognitive disorders that show slow recovery.

Diagnostic imaging of some people who have had COVID-19 show changes in the brain’s white matter that contains the long nerve fibers, or “wires,” over which information flows from one brain region to another. These changes may be due to a lack of oxygen in the brain, the inflammatory immune system response to the virus, injury to blood vessels, or leaky blood vessels. This “diffuse white matter disease” might contribute to cognitive difficulties in people with COVID-19. Diffuse white matter disease is not uncommon in individuals requiring intensive hospital care but it not clear if it also occurs in those with mild to moderate severity of COVID-19 illness.

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Characteristics of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19


Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is a highly transmissible and pathogenic coronavirus that emerged in late 2019 and has caused a pandemic of acute respiratory disease, named ‘coronavirus disease 2019’ (COVID-19), which threatens human health and public safety. In this Review, we describe the basic virology of SARS-CoV-2, including genomic characteristics and receptor use, highlighting its key difference from previously known coronaviruses. We summarize current knowledge of clinical, epidemiological and pathological features of COVID-19, as well as recent progress in animal models and antiviral treatment approaches for SARS-CoV-2 infection. We also discuss the potential wildlife hosts and zoonotic origin of this emerging virus in detail.


Coronaviruses are a diverse group of viruses infecting many different animals, and they can cause mild to severe respiratory infections in humans. In 2002 and 2012, respectively, two highly pathogenic coronaviruses with zoonotic origin, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), emerged in humans and caused fatal respiratory illness, making emerging coronaviruses a new public health concern in the twenty-first century1. At the end of 2019, a novel coronavirus designated as SARS-CoV-2 emerged in the city of Wuhan, China, and caused an outbreak of unusual viral pneumonia. Being highly transmissible, this novel coronavirus disease, also known as coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), has spread fast all over the world2,3. It has overwhelmingly surpassed SARS and MERS in terms of both the number of infected people and the spatial range of epidemic areas. The ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 has posed an extraordinary threat to global public health4,5. In this Review, we summarize the current understanding of the nature of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19. On the basis of recently published findings, this comprehensive Review covers the basic biology of SARS-CoV-2, including the genetic characteristics, the potential zoonotic origin and its receptor binding. Furthermore, we will discuss the clinical and epidemiological features, diagnosis of and countermeasures against COVID-19.

Emergence and spread

In late December 2019, several health facilities in Wuhan, in Hubei province in China, reported clusters of patients with pneumonia of unknown cause6. Similarly to patients with SARS and MERS, these patients showed symptoms of viral pneumonia, including fever, cough and chest discomfort, and in severe cases dyspnea and bilateral lung infiltration6,7. Among the first 27 documented hospitalized patients, most cases were epidemiologically linked to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a wet market located in downtown Wuhan, which sells not only seafood but also live animals, including poultry and wildlife4,8. According to a retrospective study, the onset of the first known case dates back to 8 December 2019 (ref.9). On 31 December, Wuhan Municipal Health Commission notified the public of a pneumonia outbreak of unidentified cause and informed the World Health Organization (WHO)9 (Fig. 1).

Fig. 1: Timeline of the key events of the COVID-19 outbreak.

By metagenomic RNA sequencing and virus isolation from bronchoalveolar lavage fluid samples from patients with severe pneumonia, independent teams of Chinese scientists identified that the causative agent of this emerging disease is a betacoronavirus that had never been seen before6,10,11. On 9 January 2020, the result of this etiological identification was publicly announced (Fig. 1). The first genome sequence of the novel coronavirus was published on the Virological website on 10 January, and more nearly complete genome sequences determined by different research institutes were then released via the GISAID database on 12 January7. Later, more patients with no history of exposure to Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market were identified. Several familial clusters of infection were reported, and nosocomial infection also occurred in health-care facilities. All these cases provided clear evidence for human-to-human transmission of the new virus4,12,13,14. As the outbreak coincided with the approach of the lunar New Year, travel between cities before the festival facilitated virus transmission in China. This novel coronavirus pneumonia soon spread to other cities in Hubei province and to other parts of China. Within 1 month, it had spread massively to all 34 provinces of China. The number of confirmed cases suddenly increased, with thousands of new cases diagnosed daily during late January15. On 30 January, the WHO declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern16. On 11 February, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses named the novel coronavirus ‘SARS-CoV-2’, and the WHO named the disease ‘COVID-19’ (ref.17).

The outbreak of COVID-19 in China reached an epidemic peak in February. According to the National Health Commission of China, the total number of cases continued to rise sharply in early February at an average rate of more than 3,000 newly confirmed cases per day. To control COVID-19, China implemented unprecedentedly strict public health measures. The city of Wuhan was shut down on 23 January, and all travel and transportation connecting the city was blocked. In the following couple of weeks, all outdoor activities and gatherings were restricted, and public facilities were closed in most cities as well as in countryside18. Owing to these measures, the daily number of new cases in China started to decrease steadily19.

However, despite the declining trend in China, the international spread of COVID-19 accelerated from late February. Large clusters of infection have been reported from an increasing number of countries18. The high transmission efficiency of SARS-CoV-2 and the abundance of international travel enabled rapid worldwide spread of COVID-19. On 11 March 2020, the WHO officially characterized the global COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic20. Since March, while COVID-19 in China has become effectively controlled, the case numbers in Europe, the USA and other regions have jumped sharply. According to the COVID-19 dashboard of the Center for System Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University, as of 11 August 2020, 216 countries and regions from all six continents had reported more than 20 million cases of COVID-19, and more than 733,000 patients had died21. High mortality occurred especially when health-care resources were overwhelmed. The USA is the country with the largest number of cases so far.

Although genetic evidence suggests that SARS-CoV-2 is a natural virus that likely originated in animals, there is no conclusion yet about when and where the virus first entered humans. As some of the first reported cases in Wuhan had no epidemiological link to the seafood market22, it has been suggested that the market may not be the initial source of human infection with SARS-CoV-2. One study from France detected SARS-CoV-2 by PCR in a stored sample from a patient who had pneumonia at the end of 2019, suggesting SARS-CoV-2 might have spread there much earlier than the generally known starting time of the outbreak in France23. However, this individual early report cannot give a solid answer to the origin of SARS-CoV-2 and contamination, and thus a false positive result cannot be excluded. To address this highly controversial issue, further retrospective investigations involving a larger number of banked samples from patients, animals and environments need to be conducted worldwide with well-validated assays.

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The Problem of ‘Long Haul’ COVID

More and more patients are dealing with major symptoms that linger for months

Authors: By Carolyn Barber on December 29, 2020

It was just a couple of months into the pandemic when patients in online support groups began describing the phenomenon. In some emergency departments, they said, their complaints were largely being dismissed—or at the very least diminished—by health care professionals. The patients felt they were not being heard, or perhaps even were outright disbelieved.

The common thread through these comments was a basic one. Each of the patients had already been infected with COVID-19 and presumably had recovered, yet each was still dealing with symptoms of the disease—sometimes vague, sometimes nonspecific—that simply would not go away. Physicians and nurses, already overloaded with emergent cases of the virus, were baffled, often searching for other, more benign explanations for what they were being told.

We now have a term for those patients—and the truth is, “long hauler” only begins to describe the COVID-related ordeals they are enduring. Of all the facets of the virus we have dealt with in 2020, this one may ultimately prove the most difficult to recognize, much less combat.

Long-haul COVID patients carry their symptoms well beyond what we’ve come to understand as a “normal” course of recovery. It can last for weeks. For some long haulers, it has been months—and counting. And to the consternation of physicians and nurses on the front lines, the symptoms of these patients often present as so varied and relatively common that they defy a solid COVID-related diagnosis.

If a patient comes to the emergency department (E.D.) complaining of dizziness, forgetfulness and headache, for example, is that long-haul COVID or something else entirely? How about fatigue? A persistent cough? Muscle aches and insomnia? Relapsing fevers?

With little to go on, and lacking clinical guidance, some of us in the E.D. have instructed our patients to go home, get more rest, “try to relax.” We’ve offered reassurances that everything would be okay with more time, checked off the final diagnosis box for something like anxiety or chronic fatigue on our computers, and moved on to see our next patients.

But there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that a surprising number of people are, in fact, COVID long haulers, and that hospital emergency departments and clinics may be dealing with them for months and months to come.

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Predictors of COVID-19 severity: A literature review

Authors: Benjamin Gallo Marin,1Ghazal Aghagoli,1Katya Lavine,1Lanbo Yang,1Emily J. Siff,2Silvia S. Chiang,3,4Thais P. Salazar-Mather,1,5Luba Dumenco,1,5Michael C Savaria,1Su N. Aung,6Timothy Flanigan,6 and Ian C. Michelow3,4


The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is a rapidly evolving global emergency that continues to strain healthcare systems. Emerging research describes a plethora of patient factors—including demographic, clinical, immunologic, hematological, biochemical, and radiographic findings—that may be of utility to clinicians to predict COVID-19 severity and mortality. We present a synthesis of the current literature pertaining to factors predictive of COVID-19 clinical course and outcomes. Findings associated with increased disease severity and/or mortality include age > 55 years, multiple pre-existing comorbidities, hypoxia, specific computed tomography findings indicative of extensive lung involvement, diverse laboratory test abnormalities, and biomarkers of end-organ dysfunction. Hypothesis-driven research is critical to identify the key evidence-based prognostic factors that will inform the design of intervention studies to improve the outcomes of patients with COVID-19 and to appropriately allocate scarce resources.


The newly described coronavirus disease (COVID-19), caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), has strained healthcare systems around the world. The viral spread has been amplified not only by the occurrence of asymptomatic infections but also by limited widespread testing and personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare providers across the world.1 The overwhelming influx of COVID19-infected patients to many hospitals presents a need to thoroughly understand the clinical, radiological, and laboratory findings associated with greater disease severity and mortality. Here, we synthesize the current literature to describe early demographic, clinical, virologic, immunologic, hematological, biochemical, and radiographic factors that may correlate with COVID-19 disease severity. In this paper, we will use the World Health Organization’s (WHO) definition of severe pneumonia to categorize severe disease. As of 27 May 2020, the WHO’s most recent clinical guidelines define “severe disease” as adults with clinical signs of pneumonia (fever, dyspnea, cough, and fast breathing) accompanied by one of the following: respiratory rate > 30 breaths/min; severe respiratory distress; or oxygen saturation (SpO2) ≤ 90% on room air.2 The precise determinants of severe disease are not known, but it appears that primarily host factors rather than viral genetic mutations drive the pathogenesis.3 However, emerging data from a non-peer-reviewed paper suggest that a D614G mutation in the viral spike (S) protein of strains from Europe and the United States, but not China, is associated with more efficient transmission.4 Identification of potential risk factors that predict the disease course may be of great utility for healthcare professionals to efficiently triage patients, personalize treatment, monitor clinical progress, and allocate proper resources at all levels of care to mitigate morbidity and mortality. Here, we present a review of the current literature on patient factors that have been proposed as predictors for COVID-19 severity and mortality.

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COVID-19-Associated Bronchiectasis and Its Impact on Prognosis

Authors: Aasir M. SulimanBassel W. BitarAmer A. FarooqiAnam M. ElarabiMohamed R. AboukamarAhmed S. Abdulhadi


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which initially emerged in Wuhan, China, has rapidly swept around the world, causing grave morbidity and mortality. It manifests with several symptoms, on a spectrum from asymptomatic to severe illness and death. Many typical imaging features of this disease are described, such as bilateral multi-lobar ground-glass opacities (GGO) or consolidations with a predominantly peripheral distribution. COVID-19-associated bronchiectasis is an atypical finding, and it is not a commonly described sequel of the disease. Here, we present a previously healthy middle-aged man who developed progressive bronchiectasis evident on serial chest CT scans with superimposed bacterial infection following COVID-19 pneumonia. The patient’s complicated hospital course of superimposed bacterial infection in the setting of presumed bronchiectasis secondary to COVID-19 is alleged to have contributed to his prolonged hospital stay, with difficulty in weaning off mechanical ventilation. Clinicians should have high suspicion and awareness of such a debilitating complication, as further follow-up and management might be warranted.


Beginning in December 2019, a series of pneumonia cases were reported in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. Further investigations revealed that it was a new type of viral pneumonia caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-Cov-2), which was termed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Symptoms are variable, nonspecific, and include dry cough, fever, fatigue, myalgia, dyspnea, anosmia, and ageusia [1]. The real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) test is the current gold standard for confirming infection and is performed using nasal or pharyngeal swab specimens.

Computerized tomography of the thorax (CT thorax), as a routine imaging tool for pneumonia diagnosis, is of great importance in the early detection and treatment of patients affected by COVID-19. Chest CT may detect the early parenchymal abnormalities in the absence of positive rRT-PCR at initial presentation [2]. Since chest CT was introduced as a diagnostic tool for COVID-19 pneumonia, many typical features of this disease were described such as bilateral multi-lobar ground-glass opacification (GGO) with a prevalent peripheral or posterior distribution, mainly in the lower lobes; sometimes, consolidative opacities superimposed on GGOs could be found [3]. To our knowledge, bronchiectasis is not a classical finding in COVID-19 pneumonia, with a paucity of reporting on its development and progression during the disease course.

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Virology, transmission, and pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2

Authors: Muge Cevik, clinical lecturer2,  Krutika Kuppalli, assistant professor3,  Jason Kindrachuk, assistant professor of virology4,  Malik Peiris, professor of virology5

What you need to know

  • SARS-CoV-2 is genetically similar to SARS-CoV-1, but characteristics of SARS-CoV-2—eg, structural differences in its surface proteins and viral load kinetics—may help explain its enhanced rate of transmission
  • In the respiratory tract, peak SARS-CoV-2 load is observed at the time of symptom onset or in the first week of illness, with subsequent decline thereafter, indicating the highest infectiousness potential just before or within the first five days of symptom onset
  • Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests can detect viral SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the upper respiratory tract for a mean of 17 days; however, detection of viral RNA does not necessarily equate to infectiousness, and viral culture from PCR positive upper respiratory tract samples has been rarely positive beyond nine days of illness
  • Symptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission (1-2 days before symptom onset), is likely to play a greater role in the spread of SARS-CoV-2 than asymptomatic transmission
  • A wide range of virus-neutralizing antibodies have been reported, and emerging evidence suggests that these may correlate with severity of illness but wane over time.

Since the emergence of SARS-CoV-2 in December 2019, there has been an unparalleled global effort to characterize the virus and the clinical course of disease. Coronavirus disease 2019 (covid-19), caused by SARS-CoV-2, follows a biphasic pattern of illness that likely results from the combination of an early viral response phase and an inflammatory second phase. Most clinical presentations are mild, and the typical pattern of covid-19 more resembles an influenza-like illness—which includes fever, cough, malaise, myalgia, headache, and taste and smell disturbance—rather than severe pneumonia (although emerging evidence about long term consequences is yet to be understood in detail).1 In this review, we provide a broad update on the emerging understanding of SARS-CoV-2 pathophysiology, including virology, transmission dynamics, and the immune response to the virus. Any of the mechanisms and assumptions discussed in the article and in our understanding of covid-19 may be revised as further evidence emerges.

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