What we know and don’t know about long COVID

Much about the chronic condition remains unclear nearly 3 years into the pandemic

Authhors:  Daniel de Visé | Oct. 20, 2022 Changing America

Story at a glance


  • The lack of diagnostic tools for long COVID-19 make the condition difficult to conclusively identify or study.

  • Studies place the prevalence of long COVID-19 anywhere between 4 percent and 48 percent of people who have been infected with the virus. 

  • Other aspects of the condition, such as how long symptoms may persist and how common it will be in the future, also remain unclear. 

After two years of research and one of the largest public health campaigns in human history, doctors and scientists don’t yet have a test to detect the mysterious affliction called long COVID-19, let alone a head count of the afflicted. 

Based on the latest wave of studies, long COVID-19 may beset 4 percent of the population who catch the virus, or 14.8 percent, or 48 percent. Its toll on the body spans dozens of possible symptoms, from fatigue to chest pains to fuzzy thinking to hair loss. The symptoms overlap with those seen in scores of other illnesses.  

Many long COVID-19 cases clear up after several months or a year. Some seem to be permanent. Only time will tell. 

“What do we mean when we say long COVID? We’re still figuring it out,” said Dr. Josh Fessel, a senior clinical adviser and COVID-19 specialist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Along the way, he said, “we’re learning a lot about what recovery looks like after a significant illness.” 

long COVID-19 study released last week by Scottish researchers raised eyebrows around the globe. Six to 18 months after COVID-19 infection, 48 percent of people surveyed said they had not fully recovered.  

That report is an outlier. The World Health Organization puts the prevalence of long COVID-19 at 10 to 20 percent. Other recent estimates range across the map. An ongoing survey by British health officials, updated in July, found long COVID-19 in only 4 percent of cases. A Canadian government survey, updated this week, found that 14.8 percent of adults with COVID-19 retained symptoms three months after infection. A U.S. government survey, updated this month, found that 30 percent of adults who had the coronavirus believed they had experienced long COVID-19. 

For many Americans, long COVID-19 now looms as a larger worry than acute COVID-19, the first round of disease triggered by the viral invader. Vaccinations and weakening variants have vastly lowered the odds that people without underlying conditions will wind up hospitalized or dead from the acute version of the ailment. 

“People don’t talk about just getting COVID any more,” said Tara Leytham Powell, professor of social work at the University of Illinois. “Long COVID is more of a fear.” 

Ashley Drapeau caught COVID-19 in December 2020. A month later, she said, “it just seemed like it wasn’t getting any better. I was still having shortness of breath. I was having migraines. … Lack of appetite, nausea. It seemed to go on and on.” 

Drapeau took most of 2021 off. Now she’s back at work, running a long COVID-19 program at the George Washington University Center for Integrative Medicine. She’s operating at “about 80 percent.” She has never fully recovered. 

In calculating the prevalence of long COVID-19, researchers struggle to gather basic data. There is no way to conclusively diagnose long COVID-19, so most research relies on self-reported information obtained through surveys. Respondents don’t always know if they had COVID-19. They can only guess.  

“There’s no test. There’s no way to evaluate it,” said Dr. Priya Duggal, an epidemiologist and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “You can only ask people to report it themselves.” 

Duggal works on an ongoing long COVID-19 survey at Johns Hopkins, a project that began with the first reports of lingering illness in the spring of 2020.  

“We expected there would be a long-term consequence,” she said. “We weren’t expecting what we’re seeing now.” 

Hopkins researchers have found that one-third of patients report symptoms of long COVID-19. A much smaller group, around 3 percent, was identified as suffering from severe long COVID-19, “meaning that they can’t function in their day-to-day life,” Duggal said. “They can no longer walk a quarter of a mile, or up a flight of stairs. Can’t do things like vacuum. It affects their ability to do their jobs, take kids to school.”  

Though researchers have not reached consensus on some of the specifics, they generally agree that long COVID-19 is a constellation of symptoms that can endure for months or years after infection, sometimes emerging after an illusory recovery. The most common symptoms seem to be fatigue, shortness of breath and that blurry mental state known as COVID fog. 

Researchers often file long COVID-19 sufferers into two groups. The smaller contingent, perhaps 1 to 5 percent of all coronavirus cases, suffer symptoms so severe that they “can’t live normal lives,” Duggal said. The larger camp of COVID-19 “long-haulers,” somewhere between 5 and 50 percent of all cases, manifest relatively mild symptoms that don’t hinder daily routines of work, school, shopping and sleep.  

Some in that camp may not have long COVID-19 at all.  

In the Scottish study, 91 percent of people who believed they had long COVID-19 reported one or more symptoms associated with the affliction. But at least one of the same symptoms appeared in more than half of the group that had never caught COVID-19.  

Some people confuse essentially random symptoms with resurgent COVID-19, experts say. Others could be coping with the vagaries of recovery from a serious illness. Still others may be fighting symptoms that linger mostly in the mind. 

“A lot of these are symptoms of depression and anxiety,” said Dr. Steven Dubovsky, chairman of psychiatry at the University of Buffalo. “I’m sure there’s a population of people who got sick and stayed sick for complicated psychological reasons. That doesn’t mean they aren’t sick.” 

One problem with diagnosing long COVID-19 lies in the bewildering array of symptoms. One recent Dutch study counted 23. More common: loss of taste and smell, muscle pain, back pain, headache and lethargy. Less common: “heavy arms and legs,” stomach pain, diarrhea and tingling extremities.  

“We talk about long COVID like it’s a thing,” said Fessel of NIH. “And I think the truth is that what we’re learning, and what we’ve had a sense of for a while, is that there are different flavors of long COVID. It seems like there are some people who really have a lot of the fatigue, the cognitive changes. … There are people who don’t have much of that, but they’re really short of breath with activity levels that never used to bother them, and that persists for months. There are people with real high heart rates. All of these fall under the umbrella of long COVID.” 

One uncertainty lies in the very definition of “long.” Some researchers define long COVID-19 as symptoms enduring past three or four weeks. Others draw the line at three months.  

Another imponderable: Fickle public interest in COVID-19 surveys. People who haven’t recovered from the virus may be more likely to answer a long COVID-19 survey than people who have. Educated white women, in particular, seem to answer these surveys at markedly higher rates than people in other demographic groups.  

Not all the news about long COVID-19 is bad. One good tiding: Keeping up with vaccines seems to reduce the chances of contracting long COVID-19.  

U.K. health officials have found encouraging signs that weaker variants, as well, correlate to lower rates of long COVID-19.  

“Our research and other research have found that if you’re fully vaccinated, your risk of having long COVID 12 weeks after an omicron infection is about half what it was with delta,” said Daniel Ayoubkhani, principal statistician at the U.K. Office for National Statistics.  

Other researchers disagree. And even if the rate of long COVID-19 decreases over time, owing to vaccination or milder variants, the sheer number of infections should guarantee a steady stream of long COVID cases for a long time to come. The impact of those cases, on individuals and on society, could be massive. One recent study suggests long COVID-19 may have already sidelined 4 million American workers.  

“That’s over $100 billion a year, in terms of lost wages,” said Drapeau, of George Washington University. “That’s a pretty big deal.”

Extensive thrombosis after COVID-19 vaccine: cause or coincidence

Authors: Luís Lourenço Graça ,1 Maria João Amaral ,2 Marco Serôdio,3 Beatriz Costa2

SUMMARY
A 62-year-old Caucasian female patient presented with abdominal pain, vomiting and fever 1 day after administration of COVID-19 vaccine. Bloodwork revealed anaemia and thrombocytosis. Abdominal CT angiography showed a mural thrombus at the emergence of the coeliac trunk, hepatic and splenic arteries, and extensive thrombosis of the superior and inferior mesenteric veins, splenic and portal veins, and the inferior vena cava, extending to the
left common iliac vein. The spleen displayed extensive areas of infarction. Etiological investigation included assessment of congenital coagulation disorders and acquired causes with no relevant findings. Administration of COVID-19 vaccine was considered a possible cause of the extensive multifocal thrombosis. After reviewing relevant literature, it was considered
that other causes of this event should be further investigated. Thrombosis associated with COVID-19vaccine is rare and an etiological relationship should only be considered in the appropriate context and after investigation of other, more frequent, causes.

BACKGROUND
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the pharmaceutical industry is under immense pressure to develop effective and safe vaccines, and as such clinical trials have been expedited in order to make them available to help fight this health crisis. In this context, timely communication between healthcare institutions and regulatory entities is especially important. Reports of thrombosis due to administration of these vaccines have been causing an important
discussion in the scientific community as well as social alarm. However, it is important to note that this is a rare complication and more frequent causes of extensive arterial and venous thrombosis should be considered and investigated.1

CASE PRESENTATION
A 62-year-old Caucasian female patient, with personal history of obesity (body mass index of
30kg/m2), asthma and rhinitis, presented to the emergency department with abdominal pain,
nausea, vomiting and fever (38°C) 1day after administration of the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine(from AstraZeneca). On physical examination, she presented epigastric and left iliac fossa tenderness as the only abnormal finding. The patient denied recent epistaxis and gastrointestinal or genitourinary blood loss.

INVESTIGATIONS
Blood tests revealed microcytic hypochromic anemia (hemoglobin 7g/L), thrombocytosis (780×109/L),increased levels of inflammatory parameters (leucocytes 13×109/L; C reactive protein 31.07mg/dL) and slightly increased levels of liver enzymes and function (AST 36, ALP 126U/L, GGT 72U/L, LDH 441U/L, total bilirubin 1.3mg/dL, direct bilirubin 0.5mg/dL). The patient was tested for COVID-19 with nasopharyngeal PCR tests at admission and on the fifth day of hospitalization. Both tests were negative. Abdominal CT angiography (CTA) showed a mural thrombus at the emergence of the coeliac trunk, with total occlusion (figure 1), as well as at the hepatic and splenic arteries. There was also extensive thrombosis of the superior and inferior mesenteric veins and its tributaries, splenic and portal veins, including the splenoportal confluent (figure 2). There was a filiform thrombus at the distal portion of the inferior vena cava, extending to the left common iliac vein, non-occlusive (figure 3). Spleen presented extensive areas of infarction (figure 1). Coeliac trunk occlusion due to paradoxical embolism was excluded by transthoracic echocardiogram. No interatrial communication was detected. Re-evaluation CTA 5days after the diagnosis was identical. Etiological investigation included assessment of congenital coagulation disorders and acquired causes. Regarding congenital disorders, personal and family history of important thrombotic events, thrombosis in unusual sites and abortions were assessed with no relevant findings. Molecular testing for factor V Leiden mutation and prothrombin gene20210 G/A mutation were both negative. Acquired causes of a coagulation disorder, such as neoplastic, infectious and autoimmune disorders, like antiphospholipid syndrome (APS), were also investigated. Thorax, abdomen, pelvic and brain CT did not detect any suspicious lesions. Tumor biomarkers—carcinoembryonic antigen, alpha fetoprotein, carbohydrate antigen 19-9, cancer antigen 125, cancer antigen 15-3, neuron-specific enolase and chromogranin A—were negative. The patient refused to undergo upper digestive endoscopy and colonoscopy. Despite increased levels of inflammatory parameters at admission (leukocytosis and C reactive protein), these values decreased during the hospitalization period. Blood and urine cultures were also negative. Anticardiolipin IgG and IgM and antibeta-2-glycoprotein IgG and IgM were negative, excluding APS.

DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS
In the presence of venous and arterial thrombosis, the etiological investigation should include

assessment of congenital and acquired coagulation disorders, as well as the presence of interatrial communication that could explain the coeliac trunk occlusion due to paradoxical embolism. As previously stated, these etiological factors were assessed with no specific findings, with the exception of digestive endoscopic study, which was refused by the patient. In this context, and given the fact that the presentation took place 1day after administration of the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, we hypothesize that the vaccine might be the cause of the extensive arterial and venous thrombosis. This case was immediately reported to INFARMED, the Portuguese authority for drugs and health products. Vaccine-induced thrombotic thrombocytopenia (VITT) was also considered a differential diagnosis. However, the patient did
not present with thrombocytopenia, which is a key criteria for VITT, and therefore the presence of this syndrome was unlikely.COVID-19 tests at admission and on the fifth day of hospitalization were negative; however, she was not tested prior to the onset of the event and therefore it was not possible to exclude

recent COVID-19 infection, which may predispose to thrombosis, even during the convalescent phase.
TREATMENT
At presentation, there were no signs of organ ischemia that required revascularization procedure or intestinal resection. Considering the anemia, the patient was not a candidate for
fibrinolysis. The treatment was empiric endovenous antibiotherapy and transfusion of two units of red blood cells. Anticoagulation with low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) 1mg/kg
two times per day was initiated and maintained during hospitalisation, with monitoring of anti-Xa levels. After hospitalization,in an outpatient setting, the patient was initiated on edoxaban.

OUTCOME AND FOLLOW-UP
Re-evaluation CTA 28 days after presentation revealed a portal vein with a filiform caliber, with a cavernomatous transformation. There was only permeability of the left branch of the portal
vein, with venous collateralization in the hepatic hilum. Coeliac trunk was still occluded, with permeability of the gastroduodenal artery and the right hepatic artery, and apparent occlusion at the emergence of the left hepatic artery, although with distal repermeabilisation. Partial thrombus persisted in the lumen of the left common iliac vein and inferior infrarenal vena cava. At the follow-up consultation, 1month after discharge, the patient was clinically asymptomatic.

DISCUSSION
Venous and arterial thrombotic disorders have long been considered separate pathophysiological entities due to their anatomical differences and distinct clinical presentations. In particular, arterial thrombosis is seen largely as a phenomenon of platelet
activation, whereas venous thrombosis is mostly a matter of activation of the clotting system.2
There is increasing evidence regarding a link between venous and arterial thromboses. These two vascular complications share several risk factors, such as age, obesity, diabetes mellitus, blood Figure 1 CT angiography arterial phase, axial image: a mural thrombus is observed at the coeliac trunk emergence, with total occlusion. Splenic parenchyma without enhancement after contrast administration can also be observed, translating to extensive infarct areas.
Figure 2 CT angiography portal phase, coronal image: portal vein thrombosis (A) extending to the splenoportal confluent (B) can be observed. Figure 3 CT angiography portal phase, coronal image: a non-occlusive filiform thrombus at the distal portion of the inferior vena cava can be observed, extending to the left common iliac vein. on April 13, 2022 by guest. Protected by copyright. http://casereports.bmj.com/ BMJ Case Rep: first published as 10.1136/bcr-2021-244878 on 16 August 2021. Downloaded from Graça LL, et al. BMJ Case Rep 2021;14:e244878. doi:10.1136/bcr-2021-244878 3

Case report hypertension, hypertriglyceridaemia and metabolic syndrome.3 Moreover, there are many examples of conditions accounting for both venous and arterial thromboses, such as APS, hyperhomocysteinaemia, malignancies, infections and use of hormonal treatment.3 In this case, in accordance with the literature, the patient is 62 years old and obese, with no other findings. Hyperhomocysteinaemia and digestive tract malignancies were not excluded. Recent studies have shown that patients with venous thromboembolism are at a higher risk of arterial thrombotic complications than matched control individuals. Therefore, it is speculated that
the two vascular complications may be simultaneously triggered by biological stimuli responsible for activating coagulation and inflammatory pathways in both the arterial and the venous system.3 The modified adenovirus vector COVID-19 vaccines (ChAdOx1nCoV-19 by Oxford/AstraZeneca and Ad26.COV2.S by Johnson & Johnson/Janssen) and mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines(BNT162b2 mRNA by Pfizer/BioNTech and mRNA-1273 by Moderna) have shown both safety and efficacy against COVID-19 in phase III clinical trials and are now being used in global vaccination programmes.4Rare cases of postvaccine-associated cerebral venous thrombosis(CVT) from use of COVID-19 vaccines which use a viral vector, including the mechanism of VITT, have emerged in real-worldvaccination.4 On the other hand, the incidence and pathogenesis of CVT after mRNA COVID-19 vaccines remain unknown. However Fan et al4
presented three cases and Dias et al5reported two cases of CVT in patients who took an mRNA vaccine (BNT162b2 mRNA by Pfizer/BioNTech). In both cases, causality has not been proven.
In a recent editorial, three independent descriptions of persons with a newly described syndrome, VITT, were highlighted, characterized by thrombosis and thrombocytopenia that developed 5–24 days after initial vaccination with ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 (AstraZeneca), a recombinant adenoviral vector encoding the spike protein of SARS-CoV-2.6VITT is also characterized by the presence of CVT, thrombosis in the portal, splanchnic and hepatic veins, as well as acute arterial thromboses, platelet counts of 20–30×109 /L, high levels of D-dimers and low levels of fibrinogen, suggesting systemic activation of coagulation.6 In our case, similarities were found with VITT regarding thrombosis in the portal, splanchnic and hepatic veins, as well as acute arterial thromboses and high levels of D-dimers. On the other hand, timing of the event (1day after vaccination), high levels of fibrinogen and absence of thrombocytopenia, which is a key criteria for VITT, point to a different direction. Moreover, the
presence of thrombocytosis allowed for a safe use of LMWH for anticoagulation, with monitoring of anti-Xa levels. Most of the cases reported so far of venous and arterial thrombosis as a complication of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine have occurred in women under the age of 60 years, associated with thrombocytopenia, within 2weeks of receiving their first dose of the vaccine.7As for the mechanism, it is thought that the vaccine may trigger an immune response leading to an atypical heparin-induced thrombocytopenia-like disorder. In contrast with the literature, our patient presented with thrombocytosis, not thrombocytopaenia.7 Smadja et al8reported that between 13 December 2020 and
16 March 2021 (94 days), 361734967 people in the international COVID-19 vaccination data set received vaccination and795 venous and 1374 arterial thrombotic events were reported in
Vigibase on 16 March 2021. Spontaneous reports of thrombotic events are shared in 1197 for Pfizer/BioNtech’s COVID-19 vaccine,325 for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine and 639 for AstraZeneca’sCOVID-19 vaccine.7 The reporting rate for cases of venous (VTE) and arterial (ATE) thrombotic events during this time period among the total number of people vaccinated was 0.21 cases of thrombotic events per 1million person vaccinated-days.7For VTE and ATE, the rates were 0.075 and 0.13 cases per 1million persons vaccinated, respectively, and the timeframe between vaccinationand ATE is the same for the three vaccines (median of 2days),
although a significant difference in terms of VTE was identified between AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine (median of 6days) and both mRNA vaccines (median of 4days).8 The first paper addressing this issue was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and described 11 patients, 9 of themwomen.9 Nine patients had cerebral venous thrombosis, three had
splanchnic vein thrombosis, three had pulmonary embolism and four had other thromboses. All 11 patients, as well as another 17 for whom the researchers had blood samples, tested positive for antibodies against platelet factor 4 (PF4). These antibodies are also observed in people who develop heparin-induced thrombocytopenia. However, none of the patients had received heparin before their symptoms started.9Our patient did not present thrombocytopenia, so anti-PF4 antibodies were not tested. Thus, considering the anemia, thrombocytosis and thrombosis diagnosed 1day after the first dose ofCOVID-19 vaccine, it seems prudent to continue investigation for other causes of this event, such as hematological malignancies or others.

REFERENCES
1 Burch J, Enofe I. Acute mesenteric ischaemia secondary to portal, splenic and superior
mesenteric vein thrombosis. BMJ Case Rep 2019;12:e230145.
2 Singer DE, Albers GW, Dalen JE, et al. Antithrombotic therapy in atrial fibrillation:
American College of chest physicians evidence-based clinical practice guidelines (8th
edition). Chest 2008;133:546S–92.
3 Ageno W, Becattini C, Brighton T, et al. Cardiovascular risk factors and venous
thromboembolism: a meta-analysis. Circulation 2008;117:93–102.
4 Fan BE, Shen JY, Lim XR, et al. Cerebral venous thrombosis post BNT162b2 mRNA
SARS-CoV-2 vaccination: a black Swan event. Am J Hematol 2021. doi:10.1002/
ajh.26272. [Epub ahead of print: 16 Jun 2021].
5 Dias L, Soares-Dos-Reis R, Meira J, et al. Cerebral venous thrombosis after BNT162b2
mRNA SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis 2021;30:105906.
6 Cines DB, Bussel JB. SARS-CoV-2 vaccine-induced immune thrombotic
thrombocytopenia. N Engl J Med 2021;384:2254–6.
7 AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine: EMA finds possible link to very rare cases of unusual
blood clots with low blood platelets. Available: https://www.ema.europa.eu/en/news/
astrazenecas-covid-19-vaccine-ema-finds-possible-link-very-rare-cases-unusual-bloodclots-low-blood [Accessed Apr 2021].
8 Smadja DM, Yue Q-Y, Chocron R, et al. Vaccination against COVID-19: insight from
arterial and venous thrombosis occurrence using data from VigiBase. Eur Respir J
2021;58:2100956.
9 Wise J. Covid-19: rare immune response may cause clots after AstraZeneca vaccine, say
researchers. BMJ 2021;373:n954.

Intestinal Damage in COVID-19: SARS-CoV-2 Infection and Intestinal Thrombosis

Authors: Xiaoming Wu1Haijiao Jing1Chengyue Wang1Yufeng Wang1Nan Zuo1Tao Jiang2*Valerie A. Novakovic3 and Jialan Shi1,3,4* Front. Microbiol., 22 March 2022 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fmicb.2022.860931

The intestinal tract, with high expression of angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), is a major site of extrapulmonary infection in COVID-19. During pulmonary infection, the virus enters the bloodstream forming viremia, which infects and damages extrapulmonary organs. Uncontrolled viral infection induces cytokine storm and promotes a hypercoagulable state, leading to systemic microthrombi. Both viral infection and microthrombi can damage the gut–blood barrier, resulting in malabsorption, malnutrition, and intestinal flora entering the blood, ultimately increasing disease severity and mortality. Early prophylactic antithrombotic therapy can prevent these damages, thereby reducing mortality. In this review, we discuss the effects of SARS-CoV-2 infection and intestinal thrombosis on intestinal injury and disease severity, as well as corresponding treatment strategies.

Introduction

COVID-19 has become a worldwide pandemic causing widespread illness and mortality. SARS-CoV-2 mainly infects the respiratory tract through attachment to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors (Lan et al., 2020). ACE2 is also highly expressed on intestinal epithelial cells, allowing SARS-CoV-2 to infect the intestinal tract (Xiao et al., 2020a). Recent meta-analyses show that 48%–54% of fecal samples from COVID-19 patients have tested positive for viral RNA, and 15%–17% of patients have gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms (Cheung et al., 2020Mao et al., 2020Sultan et al., 2020). Additionally, live virus can be isolated from fecal samples of COVID-19 patients (Wang et al., 2020). Some studies have proposed fecal–oral transmission as the cause of intestinal infection (Guo et al., 2021). However, direct evidence for fecal–oral transmission is still lacking. Meanwhile, the virus has been detected in the blood of both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients (Chang et al., 2020), and disseminated virus could infect extrapulmonary organs (Jacobs and Mellors, 2020). Thus, the potential that intestinal infection occurs via blood transmission should be carefully considered.

Pulmonary infection triggers cytokine storm and induces a prothrombotic state (McFadyen et al., 2020Moore and June, 2020). Venous and arterial thrombosis are common in COVID-19 (Moore and June, 2020). Systematic reviews estimate that 14%–31% of in-hospital patients develop a clinically apparent thrombotic event (Suh et al., 2021Tan et al., 2021), while autopsy reports show a high prevalence of microthrombi in multiple organs, including lung, heart, liver, kidney, and gastrointestinal tract (Bradley et al., 2020Polak et al., 2020). A cohort study showed that COVID-19 patients with intestinal ischemia had markedly elevated D-dimer levels and poor outcomes (Norsa et al., 2020). Additionally, recent studies have shown that mesenteric thrombosis often results in intestinal resection and significantly increases mortality (Bhayana et al., 2020El Moheb et al., 2020). Therefore, it is essential to outline the mechanisms of intestinal thrombosis and its contribution to intestinal damage and disease progression.

In this review, we discuss blood transmission as a potential route for intestinal infection. We then summarize the characteristics and mechanism of intestinal thrombosis formation in COVID-19. Next, we focus on the effects of intestinal infection and thrombosis on intestinal damage and disease severity. Finally, we discuss therapeutic strategies to prevent intestinal damage.

Gastrointestinal Symptoms and SARS-CoV-2 Infection

Multiple studies have reported GI symptoms in COVID-19 patients, including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, anorexia, and abdominal pain (Cheung et al., 2020Mao et al., 2020Sultan et al., 2020). According to a meta-analysis comprising 10,890 COVID-19 patients, the pooled prevalence estimates of GI symptoms were: diarrhea (7.7%), nausea or vomiting (7.8%), and abdominal pain (2.7%; Sultan et al., 2020) with 10% of these patients reporting GI symptoms as being their initial symptoms (Cheung et al., 2020). These data indicate potential gastrointestinal infection by SARS-CoV-2, which is reported to infect and replicate in epithelial cells of human small intestinal organoids (Zang et al., 2020). Both viral nucleocapsid proteins and viral particles have been detected in infected patient intestinal biopsies (Livanos et al., 2021). Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 RNA and live virus can be found in the stool of patients (Wang et al., 2020). More importantly, SARS-CoV-2 subgenomic mRNA is transcribed in actively replicating cells and has been detected in fecal samples (Wölfel et al., 2020). Further, rectal viral shedding persists for longer than that of the respiratory system (Zhao et al., 2020). All these data demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 directly infects and replicates in intestinal epithelial cells of patients.

Intestinal Infection and Transmission Routes

With the deepening understanding of COVID-19, GI symptoms have been recognized as early signs of the disease. The high expression of ACE2 in the GI tract, isolation of live virus from fecal samples, and a subset of patients presenting with only GI symptoms seem to suggest fecal–oral transmission. However, problems with the feasibility of this mode of transmission remain. First, studies have shown that SARS-CoV-2 loses infectivity in simulated gastric acid within 10 min (Chan et al., 2020Zang et al., 2020Zhong et al., 2020). Secondly, SARS-CoV-2, as an enveloped virus, is largely unable to withstand the detergent effect of bile salts and the activity of digestive enzymes in the duodenum (Figure 1). Although some studies have suggested that highly viscous mucus in the gastrointestinal tract protects SARS-CoV-2, allowing the virus to retain its infectivity (Guo et al., 2021Zhang H. et al., 2021), there is still a lack of direct evidence. Bushman et al. (2019) had previously investigated the links between the structures of viruses and routes of transmission and found a strong association between fecal–oral transmission and the absence of a lipid envelope. Lastly, although some studies have isolated intact viruses from feces (Wang et al., 2020Zhang Y. et al., 2020Zhou et al., 2020Xiao et al., 2020b), most of them have not further confirmed the infectivity of these viruses (Wang et al., 2020Zhang Y. et al., 2020Xiao et al., 2020b). Zhou et al. (2020) confirmed viral propagation by RT-PCR, but only in a single fecal sample. Previous research has shown that SARS-CoV-2 is completely inactivated in simulated human colonic fluid over the course of 24 h, which may explain the sporadic detection of infection-active SARS-CoV-2 from feces samples.FIGURE 1

Figure 1. Intestinal infection and transmission routes. ① Direct evidence for fecal–oral transmission is still lacking. SARS-CoV-2 may be unable to enter the small intestine from the stomach due to gastric acid, bile and digestive enzymes. ② SARS-CoV-2 released from type II alveolar cells infects alveolar capillary endothelial cells (ECs). The virus replicates in ECs and is released into the blood to form viremia. ③ SARS-CoV-2 is released from infected ciliary cells of the nasal cavity and breaks through the basement membrane, infecting the vascular ECs and eventually entering circulation. ④ Blood transmission after alveolar or nasal infection is a potential route of intestinal infection. Eventually, SARS-CoV-2 is released into the gut and infects surrounding intestinal epithelial cells along the intestinal tract. ⑤ SARS-CoV-2 in the gut can also enter the capillaries and cause viremia, leading to recurrence of disease.

Several lines of evidence suggest that SARS-CoV-2 may infect the intestinal tract via the bloodstream. Deng et al. (2020) detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA in anal swabs from intratracheally but not intragastrically infected rhesus macaques, suggesting blood transmission. Indeed, SARS-CoV-2 RNA has been detected in blood and urine samples of patients (Wang et al., 2020). The virus can also be detected in multiple organs (including heart, brain, and kidney) and is associated with organ injury, indicating that the virus can reach and infect extrapulmonary organs (Puelles et al., 2020). Another study showed that SARS-CoV-2 viremia was associated with intestinal damage, independent of disease severity (Li Y. et al., 2021). Thus, blood transmission could be the cause of intestinal infection. Specifically, SARS-CoV-2 replicating in alveolar epithelial cells and capillary ECs is released into the bloodstream and infects new vascular ECs. The capillary network is then the main route by which the virus enters and infects extrapulmonary organs. The extensive surface area of intestinal capillaries makes intestinal epithelial cells more susceptible to infection than other extrapulmonary organs. Following infection of intestinal capillaries, SARS-CoV-2 is released into the gut and infects surrounding intestinal epithelial cells along the intestinal tract (Figure 1). Once established in the gut, SARS-CoV-2 can also reenter the capillaries, potentially leading to recurrence of disease. Consistent with this, in patients who experienced recurrence, the phylogenetic analysis of infection samples has shown that recurrent virus evolves from the original parent virus (Hu et al., 2020).

Additionally, SARS-CoV-2 RNA can also be detected in the blood and urine of asymptomatic patients, suggesting a second pathway to viremia through the nasal cavity (Chang et al., 2020Hasanoglu et al., 2021). The abundant blood vessels, thin mucous membrane, and higher levels of ACE2 (Huang et al., 2021) make it possible for the virus to initiate viremia from the nasal cavity. Specifically, SARS-CoV-2 is released from infected ciliary cells of the nasal cavity and breaks through the basement membrane, infecting the vascular ECs and eventually entering circulation (Figure 1). Blood transmission after nasal infection is therefore another potential route of intestinal infection.

Intestinal Damage, Malnutrition, and Poor Outcomes

A recent study has shown that a fecal sample positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA at any time during hospitalization was associated with higher mortality [HR: 3.4 (1.2–9.9); Das Adhikari et al., 2021]. Similarly, another study showed that small-bowel thickening on CT was strongly associated with ICU admission (Wölfel et al., 2020). This relationship did not hold for colon or rectal thickening. These data indicates that small-bowel damage contributes to poor outcomes. As the main organ for nutrient absorption, damage to the small intestine will result in malabsorption and malnutrition, both of which commonly occur in COVID-19 patients (Di Filippo et al., 2021Lv et al., 2021) and are associated with disease severity (Luo et al., 2020Zhang P. et al., 2021). A fecal metabolome study showed that feces of COVID-19 patients were enriched with important nutrients that should be metabolized or absorbed, consistent with malabsorption (Lv et al., 2021). A prospective study showed that 29% of COVID-19 patients (31% of hospitalization patients and 21% of patients quarantined at home) had lost >5% of body weight [median weight loss, 6.5 (5.0–9.0) kg or 8.1 (6.1–10.9) %; Di Filippo et al., 2021]. Those patients with weight loss had greater systemic inflammation, impaired renal function and longer disease duration. A large, multicenter study (including 3,229 patients with GI symptoms) showed that 23% of patients had malnutrition, of whom 56.4% were unable to gain weight after 6 months follow-up (Rizvi et al., 2021). Studies also showed that malnutrition was associated with higher incidences of acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute myocardial injury, secondary infection, shock, and 28-day ICU mortality (Luo et al., 2020Zhang P. et al., 2021). Overall, malabsorption and malnutrition due to damaged small intestine increased disease severity and mortality.

Nutrient absorption in the small intestine is mainly through ATP-dependent active transport. Intestinal infection, hypoxemia, and intestinal ischemia contribute to malabsorption. SARS-CoV-2 adhesion depletes ACE2 levels on intestinal epithelial cells, which alters the expression of the neutral amino acid transporter B0AT1, reducing the intake of tryptophan and the production of nicotinamide (D’Amico et al., 2020). Meanwhile, uncontrolled viral replication consumes large amounts of ATP and nutrients, resulting in decreased nutrients entering the bloodstream. More importantly, anaerobic glycolysis caused by hypoxemia and intestinal ischemia significantly decreases ATP and active transport, leading to malabsorption. Additionally, hypoxemia and intestinal ischemia can also cause anorexia, nausea, vomiting, and enteral nutrition intolerance, reducing food intake. A prospective multicenter study showed that reduced food intake was associated with higher ICU admission and mortality (Caccialanza et al., 2021).

Intestinal Ischemia and Thrombosis

Intestinal ischemia is a common manifestation in COVID-19 patients. Autopsy results have shown that 31.6% of deceased patients had focal ischemic intestinal changes (Chiu et al., 2020). In a separate imaging study, bowel wall thickening and pneumatosis intestinalis, which indicate intestinal ischemia, were found on 38.1% (16 of 42) of abdominal CT images (Bhayana et al., 2020). Of these, 4 (9.5%) patients with pneumatosis intestinalis developed severe intestinal necrosis and needed resection. In another cohort study, 55.8% (58/104) of ICU patients developed an ileus (Kaafarani et al., 2020). Although mechanical factors cannot be ruled out, insufficient intestinal motility due to intestinal ischemia was more likely to be the cause of ileus in COVID-19 patients. In these patients with ileus, 4 (3.8%) developed severe intestinal ischemia and require emergency surgery. Both studies found microthrombi in these resected intestinal samples, which were the main cause of intestinal ischemia and increased mortality.

Additional intestinal ischemia and necrosis follows the formation of mesenteric thrombosis. However, there is currently relatively little data of mesenteric thrombus in COVID-19. Therefore, we have summarized the characteristics of 40 patients in 39 case reports published on PubMed (Supplementary Table 1). The median age of these patients was 50 (20–82) years, 26 (65%) were male, 38 (95%) developed bowel ischemia or necrosis, 30 (75%) needed bowel resection, 7 (17.5%) required no surgery, at least 3 (7.5%) developed sepsis, and 13 (32.5%) died. Other abdominal thrombotic events (such as celiac aortic thrombosis) leading to mesenteric ischemia can also result in severe intestinal necrosis and require intestinal resection (Zamboni et al., 2021).

Mild intestinal ischemia can lead to reduced diet and malabsorption. Severe intestinal ischemia or necrosis leads to the dissemination of gut bacteria, endotoxins, and microbial metabolites into the blood (Figure 2 bottom), aggravating hyperinflammation and the hypercoagulability state. Such patients need emergency excision of the necrotic bowel, which significantly increases mortality.FIGURE 2

Figure 2. Intestinal thrombosis leads to intestinal mucosal necrosis and dissemination of gut bacteria, endotoxins, and microbial metabolites in blood. (Top) Mesenteric vascular endotheliitis (initiated by viremia and accelerated by cytokines), hyperactivated platelets and high levels of phosphatidylserine (PS) promote a high rate of mesenteric thrombus in COVID-19 patients (mesenteric vein is shown in Supplementary Figure 1). (Bottom) Intestinal microthrombi and hypoxemia rapidly lead to intestinal mucosal ischemia and necrosis. The damaged gut–blood barrier leads to dissemination of gut bacteria, endotoxins, and microbial metabolites in blood.

Long-Term Gastrointestinal Sequelae

Long-term GI complications are common in recovering COVID-19 patients. In one systematic review of post-acute COVID-19 manifestations, diarrhea was among the top 10 most common complaints, with a prevalence of 6%. Other long-term GI symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, and weight loss (Aiyegbusi et al., 2021Huang et al., 2021). The exact mechanisms of the GI sequelae remain unclear. Recently, persistent endotheliopathy, higher levels of thrombin (Fogarty et al., 2021), and residual SARS-CoV-2 viral antigens in the GI tract (Cheung et al., 2022) were described in convalescent COVID-19 patients. These data suggest that prolonged intestinal infection, persistent endothelial injury (abnormal intestinal–blood barrier), and microthrombi could be causes of the persistent GI symptoms.

The Mechanisms of Intestinal Thrombosis

Damaged Endothelial Cells

Resected bowel samples from COVID-19 patients routinely exhibit thrombi and endotheliitis, indicating the important role of EC injury in mesenteric thrombosis (Bhayana et al., 2020Chiu et al., 2020Kaafarani et al., 2020). SARS-CoV-2 infection (Varga et al., 2020) and elevated inflammatory cytokines (He et al., 2016) damage mesenteric vascular ECs. In response, EC cell margins retract, extending phosphatidylserine (PS) positive filopods and releasing endothelial microparticles (MPs; Figure 3BHe et al., 2016). The PS+ filopods and MPs can be co-stained by Xa and Va and support fibrin formation (Figures 3BD). The exposed PS then activates tissue factor on ECs, triggering the extrinsic coagulation pathway (Versteeg et al., 2013). Next, higher levels of FVIII and vWF released from damaged EC contribute to the hypercoagulable state and platelet aggregation, respectively (Goshua et al., 2020). Thrombomodulin is then released from ECs in its soluble form, which has an attenuated capacity to activate Protein C due to a lack of other cofactors on ECs, such as endothelial protein C receptor (Versteeg et al., 2013). Finally, upregulation of endothelial cell adhesion molecules recruits neutrophils and platelets and further contributes to thrombosis (Tong et al., 2020Li L. et al., 2021).FIGURE 3

Figure 3. Phosphatidylserine exposure on activated/apoptotic cells and microparticles (MPs) promotes fibrin formation. (A) Phosphatidylserine is usually confined to the inner leaflet of the cell membrane. This asymmetry is maintained through ATP-dependent inward transport of PS by flippases and outward transport of non-PS by floppases (left). Upon stimulation, calcium transients will inhibit ATP-dependent transport and stimulate the nonselective lipid transporter scramblase (ATP-independent), resulting in PS exposure (right). (B–D) Human umbilical vein ECs were treated with healthy human plasma and TNF-ɑ (our previous study; He et al., 2016). (B) ECs retracts the cell margins, extends PS positive filopods and releases endothelial-MPs. (C) The PS+ filopods and MPs can be co-stained by Xa and Va. (D) ECs (green) were incubated with MPs-depleted plasma (MDP) in the presence of calcium for 30 min and stained with Alexa Fluro 647-anti-fibrin for 30 min. Considerable fibrin stands among cultured ECs along with filopodia. (E) Confocal images showed PS expression on platelets of patients stained with Alexa 488 lactadherin (our previous study; Ma et al., 2017). MPs from the activated platelet (*) had formed at the margin area located between the distinct outlines. (F) MPs from plasma were co-stained by Xa and Va (or lactadherin and annexin V; our previous study; Gao et al., 2015). (G) MPs that were incubated with recalcified MDP for 30 min and stained with Alexa Fluro 647-anti-fibrin for 30 min. Converted fibrin networks were detected around MPs. The inset bars represent 5 μm in (B–D,G) and 2 μm in (E,F).

Hyperactivated Platelets and Phosphatidylserine Storm

Although COVID-19 patients exhibit mild thrombocytopenia, the remaining platelets are hyperactivated (Manne et al., 2020Taus et al., 2020Zaid et al., 2020). Studies have shown that platelets from COVID-19 patients have increased P-selectin and αIIbβ3 expression. P-selectin on activated platelets interacts with integrin αIIb3 on monocytes to form platelet-monocyte complexes, which induce monocyte tissue factor expression (Hottz et al., 2020). The activated platelets can also induce neutrophils to release neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs; Middleton et al., 2020). Furthermore, platelets from COVID-19 patients aggregate and adhere more efficiently to collagen-coated surfaces under flow conditions (Manne et al., 2020Zaid et al., 2020). Meanwhile, activated platelets release α- and dense-granule contents including FV, FXI, fibrinogen and vWF (Zaid et al., 2020). In addition, activated platelets also produce inflammatory cytokines, fueling cytokine storm (Taus et al., 2020Zaid et al., 2020). Most importantly, activated platelets expose higher levels of PS and release higher numbers of PS+ MPs (Figures 3EGZaid et al., 2020Althaus et al., 2021).

Phosphatidylserine is the most abundant negatively charged phospholipid in mammalian cells and is usually confined to the inner leaflet of the cell membrane (Versteeg et al., 2013). This asymmetry is maintained through ATP-dependent inward transport of PS by flippases and outward transport of other phospholipids by floppases (Figure 3A left). Upon stimulation, transiently increased calcium inhibits ATP-dependent transport and stimulates the nonselective lipid transporter scramblase (ATP-independent), resulting in PS exposure on the outer membrane (Figure 3A right). During this process, microvesicles derived from the budding of cellular membranes will be released. These MPs are typically <1 μm and express PS (Burnier et al., 2009). The exposure of PS on the surface of cells and MPs provides a catalytic surface for factor Xa and thrombin formation in vivo (Versteeg et al., 2013). We have previously demonstrated that PS mediates 90% of Xa and thrombin formation and significantly increases thrombosis in vivo (Shi and Gilbert, 2003).

Cytokines and virus infection can activate blood cells and ECs, resulting in higher levels of PS+ cells and MPs. As COVID-19 progresses, the developing cytokine storm activates more blood cells, leading to PS storm. Platelets are highly sensitive to circulating cytokines, releasing large amounts of cytokines and PS exposed MPs into the plasma (Taus et al., 2020Althaus et al., 2021) and thus are a major contributor to PS storm. Previous studies found an unusual elevation of FVa in severe COVID-19 patients (248 IU/dl, higher than any previous disease; Stefely et al., 2020von Meijenfeldt et al., 2021). The degree of FVa elevation in these patients may be the result of PS storm.

Collectively, SARS-CoV-2 infection is the initiating factor for injury of the intestinal vascular ECs, which is then aggravated by systemic cytokines, leading to endotheliitis. Subsequently, the hyperactivated platelets in circulation rapidly accumulate around the damaged ECs, inducing tissue factor expression, NET release, and activating the intrinsic/extrinsic coagulation pathways. Simultaneously, the high levels of PS expression in circulating cells and MPs further promote thrombin and fibrin formation (Figure 2 top).

Early Antithrombotic Treatment

Vaccines and antithrombotic therapy are effective measures to reduce intestinal damage and fight against the COVID-19 pandemic (Baden et al., 2021Chalmers et al., 2021). Vaccines induce adaptive immunity to clear the virus, reducing intestinal infection and intestinal damage. However, the usefulness of vaccines is limited by incomplete vaccine acceptance and viral mutations (Hacisuleyman et al., 2021Wang et al., 2021). Vaccines are also ineffective for already infected patients. Therefore, more attention should be paid to antithrombotic therapy. Studies had shown that thrombotic events mainly occurred within 7 days of COVID-19 diagnosis (both inpatients and outpatients; Mouhat et al., 2020Ho et al., 2021). Meanwhile, two large randomized controlled trials (RCTs) from the same platform showed that therapeutic anticoagulation reduced mortality in moderate cases but not in severe ones, suggesting that delayed anticoagulant therapy may lead to treatment failure (REMAP-CAP Investigators et al., 2021a,b). More importantly, a recent study reported three asymptomatic COVID-19 patients who developed abdominal (or intestinal) thrombosis leading to intestinal necrosis (Zamboni et al., 2021). All these data suggest that antithrombotic therapy should be initiated once COVID-19 is diagnosed (excluding patients with contraindications). Early prophylactic antithrombotic therapy can reduce the activation of vascular ECs and blood cells, preventing intestinal thrombosis, ensuring sufficient intestinal perfusion, maintaining the normal gut–blood barrier, avoiding malabsorption, malnutrition, and intestinal flora entering the bloodstream. Further, attenuated injury and decreased microthrombi in convalescent patients may lower the risk of long-term GI sequelae. Meanwhile, unobstructed systemic circulation can also accelerate the removal of SARS-CoV-2, inflammatory cytokines and damaged blood cells by the mononuclear phagocyte system.

Anticoagulation

Table 1 summarizes the RCTs of anticoagulant therapy in COVID-19 patients. For outpatients, early anticoagulant therapy reduced hospitalization and supplemental oxygen (Gonzalez-Ochoa). While, delayed treatment had no similar effect (ACTIV-4B and Ananworanich). Thus, oral anticoagulant therapy should be initiated in outpatients once COVID-19 is diagnosed. For non-critically ill patients, therapeutic doses of low molecular weight heparin (LMWH) reduced thrombotic events and mortality, and increased organ support-free days (REMAP-CAP, ACTIV-4a, ATTACC; RAPID; HEP-COVID). However, therapeutic doses of rivaroxaban did not improve clinical outcomes and increased bleeding (ACTION). This is potentially because novel oral anticoagulants do not share the anti-inflammatory and antiviral functions of heparin. Intestinal damage might also result in abnormal absorption of oral anticoagulants. Therefore, therapeutic LMWH should be the first choice for non-critically ill patients. For critically ill patients, RCTs showed that moderate and therapeutic doses were not superior to prophylactic ones. Results from several other studies suggest that the overwhelming thrombosis leads to failure of anticoagulant therapy at therapeutic doses (Leentjens et al., 2021Poor, 2021). Faced with this dilemma, an editorial in N Engl J Med argued that profibrinolytic strategies should be considered (Ten Cate, 2021). More studies are needed to explore optimal antithrombotic therapy in critically ill patients.TABLE 1

Table 1. Randomized clinical trials of anticoagulant therapy in COVID-19 patients.

Inhibition of Platelet Activation

As COVID-19 progresses, cytokine storm activates platelets, which not only participate in primary hemostasis, but also are the major components of PS storm. Autopsy results show a high prevalence of platelet-fibrin-rich microthrombi in lung and extrapulmonary organs, including the gastrointestinal tract (Bradley et al., 2020Polak et al., 2020). Early inhibition of platelet activation can reduce platelet activity and prevent PS storm, thus decreasing thrombosis and mortality. Several observational studies have shown that aspirin decreases mechanical ventilation, ICU admission, and mortality (Chow et al., 2020Santoro et al., 2022). The RCTs testing antiplatelet agents were still preliminary. A recent RCT suggested that aspirin was associated with an increase in survival and reduction in thrombotic events (RECOVERY Collaborative Group, 2022). In addition, anti-inflammatory therapy (e.g., dexamethasone, 6 mg once daily; RECOVERY Collaborative Group et al., 2020) inhibits cytokine storm, as well as platelet activation, reducing mortality. Overall, inhibition of platelet activation is also important to reduce mortality through the prevention of thrombosis and organs damage.

Factors Influencing Antithrombotic Treatment

Thrombotic Risk Factors or Co-morbidities

Studies have shown that obesity, hyperglycemia and diabetes are associated with increased thrombotic events (including intestinal thrombosis), COVID-19 severity, and mortality (Drucker, 2021Stefan et al., 2021). Other thrombotic risk factors include previous venous thromboembolism, active cancer, known thrombophilic condition, recent trauma or surgery, age ≥70 years, respiratory/cardiac/renal failure, and inflammatory bowel disease (Susen et al., 2020). These factors or co-morbidities heighten basal inflammatory levels and endothelial damage, leading to premature cytokine and PS storms, ultimately increasing thrombosis and mortality. Thus, more active antithrombotic therapy strategies should be adopted in these patients. For patients with mild COVID-19 with these factors, the French Working Group on Perioperative Hemostasis and the French Study Group on Thrombosis and Hemostasis recommend higher (intermediate) doses of anticoagulant therapy (Susen et al., 2020). For moderately ill patients, therapeutic doses of anticoagulant therapy should be initiated as soon as possible to prevent excessive microthrombus formation. The need for extended thromboprophylaxis in discharged patients remains controversial. However, a recent RCT showed that rivaroxaban (10 mg/day, 35 days) improved clinical outcomes in discharged COVID-19 patients with higher thrombotic risk factors (Ramacciotti et al., 2022), supporting extended thromboprophylaxis in patients with these risk factors or co-morbidities.

Vaccination

Although more than half the world population has received at least one dose of the vaccines, there are relatively little data of antithrombotic therapy in vaccinated patients. Studies of viral dynamics show that the viral loads of vaccinated patients are as high as that of unvaccinated patients, but drop significantly faster (Brown et al., 2021Klompas, 2021). Thus, vaccinated patients have shorter hospital stays, and are less likely to progress to critical illness and death (Tenforde et al., 2021Thompson et al., 2021). Nevertheless, antithrombotic therapy is still beneficial for the vaccinated patients. Firstly, heparin has anti-inflammatory and antiviral functions and can interfere with the binding of SARS-CoV-2 to ACE2 and shorten the duration of virus infection (Kwon et al., 2020Pereyra et al., 2021). Secondly, antithrombotic therapy protects cells from damage, PS exposure, and microthrombi formation, maintains unobstructed blood circulation, and facilitates virus clearance (by vaccine-induced adaptive immunity). Thirdly, thrombosis remains an important factor in disease progression. Antithrombotic therapy further reduces thrombosis and mortality, especially in vaccinated patients with high risk factors or co-morbidities. Lastly, although vaccines reduce the incidence, a subset of vaccinated patients will still develop long-term sequelae or Long Covid (Ledford, 2021Antonelli et al., 2022). Persistent viral infection and microthrombi are the primary causes (Ledford, 2021Xie et al., 2022), and early antithrombotic therapy is still needed to prevent them.

Conclusion and Future Research

During COVID-19 disease progression, SARS-CoV-2 infiltrates the blood stream from the initial respiratory tract infection, causing viremia, hyperactivated platelets and PS storm. The virus settles into the vascular beds of extrapulmonary organs, ultimately causing infection of intestinal epithelial cell. Damaged ECs, combined with hyperactivated platelets and PS storm, promote intestinal thrombosis, resulting in intestinal ischemia or necrosis. The damaged gut–blood barrier leads to malabsorption, malnutrition and intestinal flora entering the bloodstream, which significantly increase disease severity and mortality. Prolonged intestinal infection, persistent endothelial injury and microthrombi contribute to the long-term GI sequelae after discharge. Early prophylactic antithrombotic therapy can prevent microthrombi, ensuring sufficient intestinal perfusion, maintaining the normal intestinal function, and reducing the risk of long-term GI sequelae. More active antithrombotic therapy should be adopted in patients with other thrombotic risk factors or co-morbidities. Even in vaccinated COVID-19 patients, antithrombotic therapy is also important to decrease (intestinal) thrombosis, mortality and the risk of long-term GI sequelae.

With the Omicron pandemic, patients requiring hospitalization and ICU treatment decline rapidly. However, people are increasingly concerned about Long Covid. In terms of long-term GI sequelae, the detailed mechanisms of prolonged intestinal infection and persistent microthrombi remain unclear. And whether anticoagulant therapy can decrease GI symptoms in patients with long-term GI sequelae deserves further study. Finally, the impact of vaccines on long-term GI sequelae remains unclear in previously infected and breakthrough infected patients.

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Review of Mesenteric Ischemia in COVID-19 Patients

Authors: Amit GuptaOshin SharmaKandhala SrikanthRahul MishraAmoli Tandon & Deepak Rajput  Indian Journal of Surgery (2022) Published: 

Abstract

The new coronavirus (COVID-19) infection, first detected in Wuhan, China in 2019 has become a pandemic that has spread to nearly every country in the world. Through October 11, 2021, more than 23 billion confirmed cases and 4.8 million fatalities were reported globally. The bulk of individuals afflicted in India during the first wave were elderly persons. The second wave, however, resulted in more severe diseases and mortality in even younger age groups due to mutations in the wild virus. Symptoms may range from being asymptomatic to fatal acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). In addition to respiratory symptoms, patients may present with gastrointestinal symptoms such as stomach pain, vomiting, loose stools, or mesenteric vein thrombosis. The frequency of patients presenting with thromboembolic symptoms has recently increased. According to certain studies, the prevalence of venous thromboembolism among hospitalized patients ranges from 9 to 25%. It was also shown that the incidence is significantly greater among critically sick patients, with a prevalence of 21–31%. Although the exact origin of thromboembolism is unknown, it is considered to be produced by several altered pathways that manifest as pulmonary embolism, myocardial infarction, stroke, limb gangrene, and acute mesenteric ischemia. Acute mesenteric ischemia (AMI) is becoming an increasingly prevalent cause of acute surgical abdomen in both intensive care unit (ICU) and emergency room (ER) patients. Mesenteric ischemia should be evaluated in situations with unexplained stomach discomfort. In suspected situations, appropriate imaging techniques and early intervention, either non-surgical or surgical, are necessary to avert mortality. The purpose of this article is to look at the data on acute mesenteric ischemia in people infected with COVID-19.

Introduction

Aside from the respiratory system, the gastrointestinal system is the most common site of SARS-COV-2 infection. This might be because enterocyte and vascular endothelial membranes have large amounts of angiotensin-converting enzyme receptor 2, a membrane integral protein. As a result, the COVID virus induces direct enterocyte invasion as well as indirect endothelial injury-induced thrombosis/intestinal ischemia in the bowel [1]. ICU patients are more prone than non-ICU patients to suffer acute mesenteric ischemia. This might be because, in addition to the direct viral activity on vascular endothelium, ICU patients have extra persistent pro-inflammatory effects. Cases have been observed even among individuals who have recovered from infection [2]. A rising number of cases of acute mesenteric ischemia in COVID-19 patients have been reported in the literature since the outbreak of this pandemic (list of reported cases are summarized in the Table 1). AMI risk was shown to be increased with age, male sex, and comorbidities such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes mellitus. Because of delayed clinical manifestation, AMI-related mortality is quite significant, with 60–80% [3].Table 1 Summary of the cases reported on mesenteric ischemia in COVID-19 patientsFull size table

Case summary

A 55 years old man with no known comorbidity presented to the emergency department of our institute with severe pain abdomen and multiple episodes of vomiting. He reported the recent recovery from the non-complicated COVID-related illness. He did not report any intake of anticoagulants. On clinical examination, abdomen was unremarkable. X-ray chest, x-ray erect abdomen, and ultrasound abdomen were unremarkable. Mesenteric ischemia was suspected and the patient was subjected to CT angiography abdomen, which revealed thrombus at the origin of the superior mesenteric artery and impending gangrene of the small bowel (Fig. 1). Emergency laparotomy was done and intraoperatively found the gangrenous bowel involving the distal jejunum and almost the entire ileum sparing the terminal ileum (Fig. 2). Resection of the gangrenous small bowel and end jejunostomy was done. Later, he was given ICU care, but unfortunately, the patient succumbed to multi-organ dysfunction syndrome.

figure 1
Fig. 1
figure 2
Fig. 2

Pathophysiology

Although the specific etiology of hypercoagulable state and subsequent mesenteric ischemia in COVID-19 patients is unknown, these thromboembolic events can be related to alterations in all three Virchow triad characteristics (vascular endothelial injury, hypercoagulability, and stasis). A variety of variables complicate the etiology of thrombus development, one of which is vascular endothelial injury. Capillary permeability, hemostasis, and fibrinolysis are all maintained by the vascular endothelium (Fig. 3). Direct invasion causes endothelial cells to be damaged and lysed, resulting in an imbalance between pro and anticoagulant states [4]. Furthermore, vascular endothelial cells displayed morphological changes such as cellular expansion, retraction, and intercellular connection breakage [5]. The elevated levels of pro-inflammatory markers, von Willebrand factor, tissue factor, fibrinogen, and circulating microvesicles in the COVID-19 patients explain their hypercoagulability [6]. Antiphospholipid antibodies are elevated in some situations [7]. Patients who are critically ill, on limited oxygen support, and mechanical breathing are less mobilized, which increases the risk of deep venous thrombosis [3].

figure 3
Fig. 3

These mesenteric vascular thromboses cause acute hypoxia in the intestinal wall, which stimulates the renin-angiotensin system, causing mesenteric vasospasm and an elevated risk of hypoxic injury. SARS-COV binds to ACE 2 receptors in intestinal cells, causing cell lysis [8]. As a result, both hypoxia and direct invasion can trigger intestinal cell death. The loss of this epithelial barrier function in the gut promotes increased contact with enteric bacteria/endotoxins and viral particle penetration into the circulation [5]. The hypoxia continues, resulting in transmural infarction, perforation, and peritonitis. In one example of mesenteric ischemia induced by invasive mucormycosis, the presence of fungal components in the mesenteric microcirculation was documented [2]. See the flow chart summarizing the pathophysiology of mesenteric ischemia in covid-19 infection.

Clinical Presentation

Patients with mesenteric ischemia may exhibit a range of symptoms, from nonspecific complaints to peritonitis-like symptoms. Most of the patients developed symptoms a few days after being discharged successfully with proper symptomatic inpatient care. Although the respiratory symptoms predominate mesenteric ischemia presents with nonspecific abdominal symptoms such as loose stools, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, abdominal distension, and bleeding per rectum may occur in addition to the usual clinical presentation with respiratory features [6]. When opposed to arterial thrombosis, venous thrombosis has a delayed onset of symptoms. At first, sudden onset pain in the abdomen may be the sole symptom, and it may develop after 5–14 days. Abdominal clinical examination is nonyielding in the majority of cases. Abdominal signs would not develop unless the bowel gangrene or bowel perforation with peritonitis occurs [9].

Investigations

Blood investigations

Despite extensive study on the subject of acute mesenteric ischemia, the associated biomarkers were shown to be neither sensitive nor selective [10]. Elevated lactic acid levels and fibrin degradation products like D-dimer have low specificity and remain elevated in severe COVID-19 without AMI. However, biomarkers associated with hypercoagulable conditions aid in the initiation of preventive treatment and, to a lesser extent, in the management of COVID-related thrombotic events. Increased biomarkers of inflammation and infection include leukopenia (due to corticosteroid usage) and other signs such as C-reactive protein, procalcitonin, and IL-6. D-dimer, ferritin, prothrombin time, and lactate dehydrogenase are additional significant markers. The severity of increased lactate dehydrogenase and ferritin levels is associated with high mortality[8].

Radiological imaging

In the emergency room, an X-ray of the abdomen and an ultrasound are helpful for early examinations. X-ray of the erect abdomen helps in initial assessment in cases presented with features of obstruction or perforation. Ultrasound in the early phase may show SMA occlusion and bowel spasm or ultrasound findings in the early stages of acute mesenteric ischemia may appear normal [11]. In the intermediate phase, USG is not useful because of the presence of a large amount of gas-filled intestinal loops. In the late phase, USG may reveal fluid-filled lumen, bowel wall thinning, evidence of extra-luminal fluid, decreased or absent peristalsis. Therefore, USG may be helpful in the diagnosis of advanced bowel obstruction, gangrene, and perforation with peritoneal collection [12]. Ultrasonography revealed some other important features with distended and sludge-filled gall bladder with bile stasis. Portal venous gas also can be detected on ultrasonography which can be better characterized with the help of computed tomography [13].

Computed tomography

The gold standard investigation is CT angiography. CT observations commonly encountered in acute mesenteric ischemia secondary to COVID-19 includes thrombus in the aorta/SMA/portal circulation, augmentation of the bowel wall, thickness of the bowel wall with distention(> 3 cm), edema, and stranding of the mesentery, pneumatosis intestinalis or portal venous gas suggesting bowel wall ischemia, and non-enhancing thick bowel wall seen in bowel infarction, bowel perforation secondary to bowel infarction may present discontinuity of bowel wall with localized air collection. One should remember that pneumatosis intestinalis may also occur due to mechanical ventilation. Pneumoperitoneum occurs when there is severe intestinal necrosis and perforation. There were additional reports of nonspecific features such as a dilated gut with a fluid-filled lumen, distended gallbladder with bile stasis, features of solid organ ischemia, and pancreatitis [14]. MRI, despite its accessibility, has drawbacks such as a longer acquisition time and lower resolution than CT angiography [12].

Management

A summary of cases of acute mesenteric ischemia has been tabulated (Table 1). Management of acute mesenteric ischemia in COVID-19 includes the following:

  • Supportive measures: Crystalloid rehydration and empirical antibacterial treatment should begin before angiography or any surgical resection. Comorbidity management, hemodynamic support in unstable patients, and electrolyte balance correction are all critical components of patient care [10].
  • Anticoagulation: There is insufficient data in 19 patients to warrant thromboprophylaxis. According to the Tang et al. study, low-dose heparin prophylaxis decreased thrombotic events and mortality in those with D-dimer levels over 3 mg/ml. Despite the increased risk of bleeding, mesenteric ischemia should be treated with intraoperative and postoperative anticoagulation [15].
  • Revascularisation: Revascularization with catheter-directed thrombolysis and thrombectomy by percutaneous/surgical intervention can be explored in instances where there is no indication of significant intestinal ischemia. Catheter-directed thrombolysis with unfractionated heparin and recombinant tissue plasminogen activators can accomplish this. Because of the increased risk of re-thrombosis, vascular clearance is not indicated in instances of superior mesenteric vein thrombus [15].
  • Resection of the gangrenous bowel: Depending on clinical suspicion, a CT angiography examination of mesenteric vasculature and bowel health can be performed, and an emergency exploration call should be placed. Intraoperatively, if the patient is normotensive, has no sepsis or peritonitis, and the remaining bowel viability is unquestionable, the gangrenous bowel is to be removed, and the remaining bowel can be considered for re-anastomosis. In unfavorable circumstances, a stoma should be created following gangrenous bowel resection [11]. The margin dissection in venous thrombosis should be broader than in arterial thrombosis. To assure the bowel’s survivability, abdominal closure should be temporary, and a relook laparotomy should be done 48 h later. Histopathological examination of the resected intestine may indicate patchy or widespread necrotic changes from mucosa to transmural thickness. In the submucosal vasculature, fibrin-containing microthrombi with perivascular neutrophilic infiltration is observed.
  • Management of short bowel syndrome: The therapy varies depending on the length of colon left after excision of infarcted bowel caused by mesenteric ischemia.
  • Medical- In severe diarrhea, fluid and electrolyte loss must be replaced. TPN for feeding and histamine-2 receptor antagonists or PPIs for stomach acid secretion reduction. Loperamide and diphenoxylate are anti-motility medicines that delay small intestine transit whereas Octreotide reduces the volume of gastrointestinal secretions.
  • Non-transplant surgical therapy- Done to improve the absorption capacity of the remaining intestine by restoring intestinal continuity. Increased nutrient and fluid absorption is the goal. Segmental reversal of the small bowel, fabrication of small intestinal valves, and electrical pacing of the small bowel are all procedures used to delay intestinal transit. Longitudinal intestinal lengthening and tailoring technique (LILT) and serial transverse arthroplasty process are two intestinal lengthening procedures (STEP).
  • Intestinal transplantation- Life-threatening problems such as liver failure, thrombosis of major central veins, frequent episodes of severe dehydration, and catheter-related sepsis are reasons for intestinal transplantation [16].

Prognosis

Acute mesenteric ischemia has a poor prognosis, and life is reliant on prompt diagnosis and treatment. If detected within 24 h, the likelihood of survival is 50%, but it declines to 30% beyond that [17].In operated cases, COVID infection acts as an independent risk factor and is responsible for higher mortality [18].

Conclusion

SARS-COV-2 infection even though initially thought to be respiratory infection; later cases detected presenting with multisystem involvement. The presentation may vary from asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic to severe respiratory distress syndrome or thromboembolic phenomenon requiring ICU care. The exact mechanism of thromboembolism is not established. However, the increasing number of acute mesenteric ischemia is quite alarming. The treating physician should be overcautious in patients presenting with abdominal symptoms either currently affected or recovered from COVID-related illness. In high-risk patients, early start of prophylactic anticoagulation may be beneficial. Earlier intervention is known acute mesenteric ischemia cases with operative or minimally invasive procedures may give higher survival benefits. It mandates more research to determine the causes of thromboembolism, as well as preventive and therapeutic anticoagulation in these individuals.

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SARS-CoV-2 and acute diverticulitis: The expanding gastrointestinal manifestations of COVID-19 infection

Authors: Simcha Weissman,Anna Belyayeva,Sachit Sharma,Muhammad Aziz, J Transl Int Med. 2021 Mar; 9(1): 59–60.Published online 2021 Mar 31. doi: 10.2478/jtim-2021-0019PMCID: PMC8016353PMID: 3385080

SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus which emerged in late 2019, has spread rapidly and resulted in a global pandemic. Typical presenting symptoms of SARS-CoV-2 infection, that is, COVID-19, include fever, myalgias, fatigue, dry cough, dyspnea, and anosmia, with pneumonia being the most common disease complication. Although less frequent, gastrointestinal symptoms, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea, have been reported and have in fact implicated the gastrointestinal tract as a primary system involved in the clinical expression of COVID-19. We describe the case of a patient who presented with gastrointestinal symptoms, tested COVID-19 positive, and was subsequently found to have pneumonia as well as acute diverticulitis. This report showcases the need to recognize the expanding gastrointestinal manifestations of the COVID-19 infection and remain astute to its subsequent, often nuanced, clinical implications.

A 61-year old female with a history of lupus nephritis status-post renal transplant, chronic pelvic venous thrombosis status-post vascular stenting, hypertension, and diverticulosis presented to the emergency department (ED) with three days of progressive nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Physical examination revealed tachycardia, tachypnea, bilateral rales, and tenderness in the left lower abdomen. Laboratory tests revealed a leukocyte count of 8.3×103/μL, a neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio of 6.65, erythrocyte sedimentation rate of 127 mm/h (normal 0–15 mm/h), and d-dimer of 1,251 (normal < 500 ng/mL). SARS-CoV-2 pharyngeal swab rRT-PCR was positive. Chest radiograph revealed bilateral pulmonary opacities and consolidation. As the patient complained of continued abdominal pain, computed tomography (CT) abdomen and pelvis was ordered and revealed sigmoid colonic diverticular wall thickening and adjacent pericolonic fat stranding, consistent with acute diverticulitis. With bowel rest, intravenous antibiotics, analgesics, and supplemental oxygen, the patient improved and was discharged home after four days.

To our knowledge, while recent case reports have described gastrointestinal symptomatology of COVID-19, this represents the first reported case of COVID-19 associated acute diverticulitis. While the pathophysiologic mechanism is unclear, as with many of the manifestations of COVID-19, we hypothesize that viral entry via colonocyte angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2) receptors or a systemic inflammatory reaction may have been responsible.[1] Viral strain may also impact differential manifestations of COVID-19.[1] Interestingly, on a similar note, the etiopathogenesis of acute diverticulitis also remains uncertain, but the role of viral infection in a subset of cases has been postulated.[23] Notably, as the gastrointestinal symptomatology in this case could have been attributed solely to viral illness, imaging to make a diagnosis of acute diverticulitis may never have been pursued, and in fact was initially deferred. Awareness of this manifestation can help prevent overseeing common and acute gastrointestinal pathology of COVID-19. Moreover, gastrointestinal symptomatology are of unique significance in COVID-19 patients, in contrast to other viral illnesses, owning to the fact that they often appear early and worsen during the disease course.[4]

Thus, while COVID-19-induced diverticulitis remains seemingly rare and largely unexplored, clinicians should maintain a broad differential diagnosis in COVID positive patients presenting with gastrointestinal symptoms.[4] Additionally, on this basis, we believe it is vital to institute SARS-CoV-2 precautions in patients who present with either respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms amidst the current pandemic. Moreover, as many aspects of this disease continue to be appreciated, clinicians should not shy away from ordering abdominal imaging when other/concomitant pathology is suspected in order to help facilitate earlier and potentially impactful real-time diagnosis and treatment.

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Prevalence of organ impairment in Long COVID patients 6 and 12 months after initial symptoms

Authors:  Pooja Toshniwal PahariaMar 24 2022Reviewed by Danielle Ellis, B.Sc.

In a recent study posted to the medRxiv* preprint server, researchers assessed the prevalence of organ impairment in long coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) six months and a year post-COVID-19 at London and Oxford.

Multi-organ impairment associated with long COVID-19 is a significant health burden. Standardized multi-organ evaluation is deficient, especially in non-hospitalized patients. Although the symptoms of long COVID-19, also known as post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC), are well-established, the natural history is poorly classified by symptoms, organ impairment, and function.

About the study

In the present prospective study, researchers assessed organ impairment in long COVID-19 patients six months and a year after the onset of early symptoms and correlated them to their clinical presentation.

The participants were recruited based on specialist referral or the response to advertisements in sites such as Mayo Clinic Healthcare, Perspectum, and Oxford from April 2020 to August 2021, based on their COVID-19 history.

The study was conducted on COVID-19 patients who recovered from the acute phase of the infection. Their health status, symptoms, and organ impairment were assessed. The symptoms assessed comprised cardiopulmonary, severe dyspnoea, and cognitive dysfunction. Biochemical and physiological parameters were analyzed at baseline and post-organ impairment. The radiological investigation comprised multi-organ magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) performed in the long COVID-19 patients and healthy controls.

Over a year, the team prospectively investigated the symptoms, organ impairment, and function, especially dyspnea, cognitive dysfunction, and health-related quality of life (HRQoL). They also evaluated the association between organ impairment and clinical symptoms.

Patients with symptoms of active pulmonary infections (body temperature >37.8°C or ≥3 coughing episodes in a day) and hospital discharges in the previous week or >4 months were excluded from the study. Asymptomatic patients and those with MRI contraindications such as defibrillators, pacemakers, devices with metal implants, and claustrophobia were removed.

Participants with impaired organs, as diagnosed by blood investigations, incidental findings, or MRI, were included in the follow-up assessments. Every visit comprised blood investigations, MRI scanning, and online questionnaire surveys, which were to be filled out beforehand. In addition, a sensitivity analysis was performed that excluded patients at risk of metabolic disorders (including body mass index (BMI) ≥30 kg/m2, diabetes, and hypertension)

Results

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Out of 536 participants, the majority were middle-aged (mean age 45 years), female (73%), White (89%), and healthcare workers (32%). About 13% of the COVID-19 patients hospitalized during the acute phase of the infection completed the baseline evaluation. A total of 331 patients (62%) had incidental findings, organ impairment, or reduction in the symptoms from the baseline at both the time points.

Cognitive dysfunction (50% and 38%), poor HRQoL (EuroQOL <0.7 in 55% and 45%), and severe dyspnea (36% and 30%) were observed at six months and one year, respectively. On follow-up, the symptoms were reduced, especially cardiopulmonary and systemic symptoms, whereas fatigue, dyspnea, and cognitive dysfunction were consistently present. The greatest impact on quality of life was related to pain and difficulties performing routine activities. Almost every patient took time off work due to COVID-19. The symptoms were largely associated with obese women, young age, and impairment of a single organ.

At baseline, fibrous inflammation was observed in the pancreas (9%), heart (9%), liver (11%), and kidney (15%). Additionally, increased volumes of the spleen (8%), kidney (9%), and liver (7%) were observed. Moreover, reduced lung capacity (2%), excess adipose deposits in pancreatic tissues (15%) and liver (25%) were observed. High liver fibro-inflammation was associated with cognitive dysfunction at follow-up in 19% and 12% of patients with and without cognitive dysfunction, respectively. Low liver fat was more likely in those without severe dyspnoea at both time points. Increased liver volumes at follow-up were associated with lower HRQoL scores.

The prevalence of multi and single-organ impairment was 23% and 59% at baseline, respectively, and persisted in 27% and 59% of the participants on follow-up assessments. Most of the organ impairments were mild. However, they did not improve substantially between visits. Notably, participants without organ impairment had the lowest symptom burden.

Most biochemical parameters were normal except creatinine kinase (8% and 13%), lactate dehydrogenase (16% and 22%), mean cell hemoglobin concentration (21% and 15%), and cholesterol (46% and 48%), at six months and a year post-COVID-19, respectively. These biochemical markers increased from the baseline on follow-up assessments.

Conclusion

To summarize, organ impairment was detected in 59% of the patients at six months post-COVID-19 and persisted in 59% at one-year follow-up. This has significant implications on the quality of life, symptoms, and long-term health of the patients. These observations highlight the requirement for enhanced preventive measures and integrated patient care to decrease the long COVID-19 burden.

Journal reference:

Massive gastrointestinal bleeding in a patient with COVID-19

Authors: Mahmoud Mohamed,a,⁎Mahmoud Nassar,bNso Nso,b and Mostafa Alfishawyc

Arab J Gastroenterol. 2021 Jun; 22(2): 177–179.Published online 2021 May 14.  doi: 10.1016/j.ajg.2021.05.00 8PMCID: PMC8118668PMID: 34090835

Abstract

Despite the emerging data about the thrombophilic effect of the novel coronavirus [1] , the relation between coagulation disorders and the COVID-19 pandemic is still not well understood. Various studies pointed to the significant role of the COVID-19 induced cytokine storm in development of the hypercoagulable state which leads to serious thromboembolic complications [2][3] . Some studies report the development of severe immune thrombocytopenia induced by the novel coronavirus [4] . Other studies found a correlation between COVID-19 disease and the development of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) [5].

Patients with severe COVID-19 disease have an increased risk for development of gastrointestinal bleeding (GI) which may be related to stress [6] , critical illness or mechanical ventilation [7] . Further studies showed the ability of the novel coronavirus to infect the epithelial cells of the GI tract [8] . Moreover, some data pointed to the ability of the virus even to infect the endothelium of blood vessels [9]. The relation between the COVID-19 pandemic and GI bleeding deserves more studies [10]. We present a case of GI bleeding in a patient with severe COVID-19 disease. We assume that COVID-19 disease can be a predominant factor for the development of DIC and GI bleeding.

Introduction

The prothrombotic outcomes of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) have already been extensively reported [1]. However, the pathophysiology that may help elucidate the clinical correlation between coagulation disorders and the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) remains unclear. According to several clinical studies, COVID-19-induced cytokine storm might trigger hypercoagulable state and thromboembolic events [2][3]. The impact of COVID-19 on immune thrombocytopenia development is also emphasized [4]. In addition, a strong correlation is presumed to exist between COVID-19 and disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) [5].

Moreover, gastrointestinal (GI) bleeding in COVID-19 increases the risk of irreversible stress [6], critical illness, or mechanical ventilation [7]. COVID-19 might invade the epithelial cells of the GI tract [8]. Several clinical data highlighted the ability of COVID-19 to infect the endothelial cells [9]. However, current clinical studies have not unraveled the mechanisms responsible for inducing GI bleeding in patients with COVID-19 [10]. Here, we present a case of GI bleeding in a patient with severe COVID-19. Our findings will encourage the scientific community to validate the presumed clinical correlation between COVID-19 and DIC/GI bleeding.Go to:

Case presentation

A 75-year-old African-American male patient arrived in the emergency room with fever, cough, and nausea, preceded by malaise for 2 weeks. He had a past medical history of insulin-dependent diabetes, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. He received treatment for his symptoms and was discharged with a follow-up prescription. After 3 days, he re-developed shortness of breath, thereby readmitted for further treatment. Chest x-ray revealed interval worsening of bilateral, predominantly bibasilar, interstitial, and alveolar opacities.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome occurred; thus, supplemental oxygen therapy, intubation, and medical management were provided. The reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test revealed that he was positive for COVID-19. The medical management relied on azithromycin combined with hydroxychloroquine. However, acute renal failure developed in a few days; thus, he received heparin-free continuous renal replacement therapy (CRRT). After 9 days, he was extubated. When his renal function markedly improved, he was transferred to the medicine floor.

Within a week of receiving CRRT, the patient developed hematochezia and became hemodynamically unstable. In the intensive care unit (ICU), he was assessed and diagnosed with hemorrhagic shock requiring massive blood transfusion, intubation (for airway protection), and inotropic support. Contrast-enhanced abdominal and pelvic computed tomography (CT) revealed bibasilar airspace disease in scanned lung zones and a fat-containing ventral abdominal wall hernia with bowel loops. The diagnostic assessment excluded the possibility of incarceration and active GI bleeding. Thereafter, the patient underwent resuscitation in the ICU, followed by a repeat CT assessment, which ruled out the development of bleeding episodes.

Unfortunately, the bleeding reoccurred; hence, an interventional radiologist initiated a pelvic arteriography. The inferior mesenteric artery angiogram and superior rectal artery (SRA) angiography did not indicate any active contrast extravasation. The patient, however, underwent transcatheter gel-foam embolization of the SRAs. Meanwhile, active contrast extravasation from the rectal branches was detected in the left hypogastric arteriogram. The distal internal pudendal arteriogram affirmed a suspicious distal flow with possible anastomosis to middle rectal branches. Hence, the patient underwent coil embolization of possible middle and inferior rectal collaterals of the internal pudendal artery. A prostatic arteriogram confirmed the existence of contrast extravasation from the middle rectal artery; hence, gel-foam slurry and coil embolization were applied (Fig. 1 ). The embolization procedure effectively controlled the bleeding episode. After 5 days, the patient was extubated, transferred back to the medicine floor, and later discharged to a skilled nursing facility.

Discussion

Our case report confirms that GI bleeding can adversely impact the (Table 1 ) course and outcomes of hospitalization in patients with COVID-19. COVID-19 is a predominant factor attributing to the development of DIC and GI bleeding.

Table 1

Admission vs. event laboratory results.

AdmissionEvent
D-Dimer2.3 mcg FEU/mL>20.00 mcg FEU/mL
Platelet Count262 thou/mcL93 thou/mcL
WBC8.10 thou/mcL22.2 thou/mcL
Hemoglobin14.7 g/dL8.9 g/dL
Hematocrit41.7%41.3%
PT13.7 s24.7 s
INR1.12.3
Fibrinogen level615 mg/dL198 mg/dL

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Clinical investigation on the mechanism of COVID-19-related lung injury continues [11][12]. Currently, the impact of COVID-19 on the structure and function of the GI tract remains poorly understood. Tian et al. (2020) identified several GI manifestations of COVID-19 in 2023 patients. GI symptoms ranging from nausea to severe GI bleeding were found in 79% of these patients. Real-time PCR from fecal samples was more effective in detecting SARS-CoV-2 than RT-PCR. The diagnostic assessment further revealed nucleocapsid protein and angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 in the GI epithelium of a patient with COVID-19 [13]. Yang et al. (2020) reported GI bleeding in 4% of patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan Jinyintan Hospital. They further confirmed that GI bleeding is associated with a higher mortality risk and a worse adverse prognosis [8]. Thus, these findings further hint the impact of COVID-19 on the GI tract.

The deleterious impact of COVID-19 on blood vessels may increase GI bleeding risk in patients with COVID-19. The recent reports about COVID-19 pathogenesis affirm hypercoagulability as a possible prognostic outcome of this disease [14][15][16]. Accordingly, many clinical studies emphasize on anticoagulant therapy to prevent and treat coagulopathy in COVID-19 scenarios [16][17]. In another study, COVDI-19 had a deleterious impact on the structure and function of the vascular endothelium [9]. Lee (2020) further advocated that COVID-19 contributes to the development of fulminant DIC while disrupting the coagulation pathway [5]. The case-control study by Martin et al. (2020) reported a 60% prevalence of rectal tube-related rectal ulcers and an 80% prevalence of gastroduodenal ulcers in patients with COVID-19 [22]. They advocated conservative management to guide the treatment of COVID-19-related GI bleeding. Moreover, the case-control study by Trindade et al. (2020) confirmed the mortality predisposition of patients with COVID-19 with GI bleeding during hospitalization [23].

SARS-CoV-2 is a deleterious respiratory virus that discreetly disrupts the human body systems [18][19][20][21]. Thus, prospective studies aim to determine the effect of COVID-19 on various organ systems. Deepening our knowledge on COVID-19 is the key to curb the progression of COVID-19 worldwide.

In conclusion, our findings support the claim that SARS-CoV-2 infection can trigger episodes of DIC and GI bleeding. Future studies should investigate the potential of COVID-19 to disrupt the structure and function of the coagulation pathways, blood vessels, and epithelial cells in the GI tract. These assessments will help identify new and comprehensive prevention and treatment approaches to improve the mortality rate and prognostic outcomes of COVID-19.Go to:

Financial disclosure

The authors declare the absence of funding for this study.Go to:

Declaration of Competing Interest

The authors declare that they have no known competing financial interests or personal relationships that could have appeared to influence the work reported in this paper.Go to:

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Gastrointestinal perforation secondary to COVID-19

Case reports and literature review

Authors: Reem J. Al Argan, MBBS, SB-Med, SF-Endo, FACE, ECNU,Safi G. Alqatari, MBBS, MRCPI, MMedSc, CFP (Rheum), Abir H. Al Said, MBBS, SB-Med, CFP (Pulmo.), Raed M. Alsulaiman, MBBS, SB-Med, Abdulsalam Noor, MBBS, SB-Med, ArBIM, SF-Nephro, Lameyaa A. Al Sheekh, MD, SB-med, and Feda’a H. Al Beladi, MD

Abstract

Introduction:

Corona virus disease-2019 (COVID-19) presents primarily with respiratory symptoms. However, extra respiratory manifestations are being frequently recognized including gastrointestinal involvement. The most common gastrointestinal symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. Gastrointestinal perforation in association with COVID-19 is rarely reported in the literature.

Patient concerns and diagnosis:

In this series, we are reporting 3 cases with different presentations of gastrointestinal perforation in the setting of COVID-19. Two patients were admitted with critical COVID-19 pneumonia, both required intensive care, intubation and mechanical ventilation. The first one was an elderly gentleman who had difficult weaning from mechanical ventilation and required tracheostomy. During his stay in intensive care unit, he developed Candidemia without clear source. After transfer to the ward, he developed lower gastrointestinal bleeding and found by imaging to have sealed perforated cecal mass with radiological signs of peritonitis. The second one was an obese young gentleman who was found incidentally to have air under diaphragm. Computed tomography showed severe pneumoperitoneum with cecal and gastric wall perforation. The third case was an elderly gentleman who presented with severe COVID-19 pneumonia along with symptoms and signs of acute abdomen who was confirmed by imaging to have sigmoid diverticulitis with perforation and abscess collection.

Interventions:

The first 2 cases were treated conservatively. The third one was treated surgically.

Outcome:

Our cases had a variable hospital course but fortunately all were discharged in a good clinical condition.

Conclusion:

Our aim from this series is to highlight this fatal complication to clinicians in order to enrich our understanding of this pandemic and as a result improve patients’ outcome.Keywords: acute abdomen, acute diverticulitis, cecal mass, corona virus disease-2019, gastrointestinal perforationGo to:

1. Introduction

Corona virus disease-2019 (COVID-19) had been declared pandemic in March 2020.[1] It presents most commonly with fever in more than 80% of cases followed by respiratory symptoms which could progress to adult respiratory distress syndrome in critical cases.[2] However, extra respiratory manifestations are being frequently recognized in association with COVID-19.[3] The gastrointestinal (GI) manifestations have been reported in descriptive studies from China.[2] The most frequently reported GI symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain.[2,4,5] However, it is rarely reported for COVID-19 to present with GI perforation. To the date of writing this report, there have been only 13 reported of GI perforation in association with COVID-19.

In this series, we are reporting 3 cases who developed GI perforation in association with COVID-19. The first 2 cases developed this fatal complication after presenting with critical COVID-19 pneumonia which required intensive care unit (ICU) admission and mechanical ventilation. The third case presented with severe COVID-19 pneumonia and was diagnosed to have GI perforation at the time of presentation. The first 2 cases were managed conservatively, and the third case was managed surgically. All of the 3 cases recovered and were discharged in good condition. We are reporting this series in order to highlight this rare but fatal complication of COVID-19. This will enhance awareness of clinicians to such complication where early diagnosis and management is crucial in order to improve the patients’ outcome.

2. Case reports

2.1. The patients provided informed consent for publication of their cases

2.1.1. First case

A 70-year old male patient known to have type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), presented to our emergency department (ED) on 1st of June 2020 complaining of 3-day history of dry cough and fever. On examination: Vital signs were remarkable for tachypnea with respiratory rate (RR): 28/min and desaturation with oxygen saturation (O2 sat):81% on room air (RA) but maintained >94% on 15 litres of oxygen via a non-rebreather mask. Nasopharyngeal swab tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Chest X-ray (CXR) showed bilateral lower lung fields air apace opacities (Fig. ​(Fig.1A)1A) consistent with COVID-19 pneumonia. Laboratory investigations were remarkable for high Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH), inflammatory markers, D-dimer and markedly elevated Ferritin (Table ​(Table1).1). He was started on Methylprednisolone 40 mg IV BID, Hydroxychloroquine, Ceftriaxone, Azithromycin, Oseltamivir, and Enoxaparin. After 5 days of hospital admission, he deteriorated and could not maintain saturation on non-rebreather mask, so he was shifted to ICU, intubated and mechanically ventilated. Ceftriaxone was upgraded to Meropenem in addition to same previous therapy. COVID-19 therapy was stopped after completing 10 days, but he was continued on steroids.Figure 1

The chest X-ray (CXR) of the 3 cases at the time of presentation. (A): CXR of the 1st case showing bilateral lower lung fields air apace opacities. (B): CXR of the 2nd case showing bilateral scattered air space consolidative patches throughout the lung fields predominantly over peripheral and basal lungs. (C): CXR of the 3rd case showing bilateral middle and lower zones peripheral ground glass opacities.

Table 1

The laboratory investigations of the 3 cases on presentation.

TestFirst caseSecond caseThird caseNormal range
Complete Blood Count
 White Blood cells6.44.25.7(4.0–11.0) K/uI
 Hemoglobin15.112.113.4(11.6–14.5) g/dL
 Platelets147232283(140–450) K/uI
Renal Profile
 Blood urea nitrogen101411(8.4–21) mg/dL
 Creatinine0.920.820.82(0.6–1.3) mg/dL
Liver Profile
 Total Bilirubin0.50.51.0(0.2–1.2) mg/dL
 Direct Bilirubin0.30.20.3(0.1–0.5) mg/dL
 Alanine Transferase (ALT)265241(7–55) U/L
 Aspartate transferase (AST)425052(5–34) U/L
 Alkaline phosphatase (ALP)745574(40–150) U/L
 Gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGTP)532139(12–64) U/L
 Lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)434442617(81–234) U/L
Inflammatory Markers
 Erythrocyte Sedimentation rate (ESR)63101490–10 mm/h
 C-Reactive Protein (CRP)7.9218.3210.780–5 mg/dL
Others
 Ferritin1114.72565.86654.87(21.81–274.66) ng/mL
 D-Dimer0.60.411.66<=0.5 ug/mL

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Multiple trials of weaning from mechanical ventilation failed. So, tracheostomy was carried out on 20th day of ICU admission and then he was successfully extubated. During his stay in ICU, urine analysis was persistently positive for urinary tract infection secondary to Candida Abican. So, he was started on Caspofungin. At that time, blood culture was negative. After 4 days of Caspofungin, urine analysis and culture became negative. On 32nd day of hospital admission, he was stable clinically, requiring 40% FiO2 through tracheostomy mask, so he was transferred to COVID-19 isolation ward. Meropenem was stopped after 20 days of treatment. Steroid was tapered after transfer to the ward till it was discontinued after 28 days of therapy.

After 14 days of treatment with Caspofungin, follow up C-reactive protein was persistently high. Thus, full septic workup was requested and revealed Candida Albican bacteremia. At that time, urine analysis and culture were negative, Caspofungin was continued for additional 14 days. However, Candidemia persisted, so he was shifted to Anidulafungin for another 14 days. Patient at that time did not have any GI symptoms or signs. For work up of Candidemia, echocardiogram could not be done due to the hospital policy of isolation rooms. Bed side ophthalmology examination was unremarkable.

On 44th day of hospital admission, he developed fresh bleeding per rectum. Hemodynamics were stable. The bleeding resulted in acute drop of 2 g/dL of hemoglobin over 24 hours. He denied abdominal pain, abdominal examination was negative for signs of peritonitis and per rectum examination was unremarkable. Therefore, computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen with contrast was carried out. It showed a well-defined mass within the posterior wall of the cecum measuring 3.1 × 3.2 cm associated with discontinuous enhancement and extra-luminal air foci suggestive of complicated perforated sealed cecal mass. This is in addition to radiological findings of peritonitis (Fig. ​(Fig.22A).Figure 2

The contrast enhanced computed tomography (CT) of the abdomen of the 3 cases. (A): CT scan abdomen of the 1st case (Coronal image) showing a well-defined rounded heterogeneous enhanced soft tissue mass lesion within the posterior wall of the cecum measuring (3.1 × 3.2 cm) in anteroposterior and transverse diameter associated with discontinuous enhancement of posterior cecum wall and extra-luminal air foci suggestive of complicated perforated sealed cecum mass. This is in addition to adjacent fat stranding with free fluid as well as enhancement of peritoneal reflection suggestive of peritonitis. (B &C): CT scan abdomen of the 2nd case (Axial & Coronal images). (2B): Axial image showing moderate to severe pneumoperitoneum with air seen more tracking along the ascending colon suggestive of a wall defect in the anterior aspect of the cecum. (2C): Coronal image showing a second defect in the stomach wall. (D): CT scan abdomen of the 3rd case (Coronal image) showing severe sigmoid diverticulosis with circumferential bowel wall thickening compatible with acute diverticulitis, small amount of free air compatible with bowel perforation likely arising from the sigmoid colon and a well-defined 3.3 × 1.5 cm abscess collection adjacent to the sigmoid colon.

In consideration of his stable clinical status, absent signs of peritonitis clinically and being a sealed perforation, he was managed conservatively. So, Meropenem was resumed and Clindamycin was started. 2 days later, bleeding stopped, and he stayed stable clinically without clinical signs of peritonitis. Feeding through nasogastric tube was introduced gradually as tolerated. Antibiotics were continued for a total of 8 days. Trial of weaning from oxygen was attempted gradually which he tolerated till he was maintained on RA. After closure of tracheostomy, on 70th day of hospital admission, the patient was discharged in a good condition with a plan of follow up of cecal mass progression. However, the patient did not follow up in outpatient clinics after discharge.

2.1.2. Second case

A 37-year old male patient, morbidly obese, negative past history, presented to our ED on 11th June 2020. He reported 3-day history of shortness of breath. Vital signs were remarkable for Temperature (Temp.): 38.5 C, pulse rate (PR): 111/min, RR: 30/min and O2 sat: 80% on RA. Laboratory investigations showed high LDH, inflammatory markers and Ferritin (Table ​(Table1).1). He had positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR and CXR showed bilateral air space consolidative patches scattered throughout the lung predominantly over peripheral and basal lungs (Fig. ​(Fig.1B).1B). He was admitted to COVID-19 isolation ward as a case of COVID-19 pneumonia and started on: Triple therapy in the form of: Interferon B1, Lopinavir/Ritonavir and Ribavirin, in addition to Hydroxychloroquine, Ceftriaxone, Azithromycin, Oseltamivir, Dexamethasone 6 mg IV OD and Enoxaparin.

On the 3rd day of admission, his condition deteriorated so, he was shifted to ICU and intubated because of respiratory failure. He was maintained on same treatment for COVID-19. On 2nd day postintubation, clinically he was vitally stable without active clinical GI signs but a routine follow-up CXR showed air under the diaphragm. Therefore, abdomen CT scan with contrast was carried out and showed moderate to severe pneumoperitoneum with air tracking along the ascending colon suggestive of wall defect at the cecum, in addition to another defect noted in the stomach wall (Fig. ​(Fig.2B2B & 2C). Ceftriaxone was upgraded to Piperacillin-Tazobactam and Caspofungin was added to cover for possibility of peritonitis. Again, the patient was managed conservatively, since he was asymptomatic. He remained vitally stable without signs of peritonitis. Enteral feeding was started gradually 3 days later and on the 10th day of hospital admission, he was extubated and shifted to COVID-19 isolation ward. COVID-19 therapy was continued for 12 days.

He tolerated feeding very well. Gradual weaning of oxygen supplementation was carried out till it was discontinued. After 14 days of antibiotics, a follow up CT scan of abdomen showed interval resolution of previously seen pneumoperitoneum. He was discharged on 30th day of hospitalization in a good condition.

2.1.3. Third case

A 74-year old male patient known case of T2DM presented to our ED on 17th July 2020. He gave 3-day history of dry cough, shortness of breath and generalized colicky abdominal pain. No other pulmonary or GI symptoms. He had negative past surgical history. Vital signs were remarkable for Temp: 38.4 C, PR: 105/min, RR: 22/min and O2 sat: 90% on RA, required 3 L/min O2 through nasal cannula. Chest examination was remarkable for reduced breath sound intensity bilaterally without added sounds. Abdomen was distended with generalized tenderness and guarding. Blood tests were remarkable for high LDH, inflammatory markers, Ferritin and D-dimer (Table ​(Table1).1). PCR for SARS-COV-2 was positive and CXR showed bilateral peripheral ground glass opacities at middle and lower lung lobes (Fig. ​(Fig.1C).1C). Due to the presence of abdominal pain along with signs of acute abdomen on examination, a CT scan of the abdomen was done. It showed severe sigmoid diverticulosis with radiological findings of acute diverticulitis, free air compatible with bowel perforation likely at the sigmoid colon with 3.3 cm adjacent abscess collection (Fig. ​(Fig.22D).

Therefore, the patient was started on Piperacillin-Tazobactam, Metronidazole in addition to COVID-19 therapy. He underwent emergency exploratory laparotomy. Intra-operatively, pus and fecal peritonitis along with perforation of 0.5 cm at the distal sigmoid colon were found. So, a Hartmann’s procedure was performed. Pathology result of resected sigmoid colon revealed diverticular disease with surrounding fibrosis, moderate mucosal inflammation with mixed acute and chronic inflammatory cells, negative for malignancy.

He had smooth postoperative course. Enteral feeding was started on 3rd day postoperation and he improved clinically. After a total of 10 days of hospitalization, supplemental oxygen and antibiotics were discontinued. He was discharged on 11th day of hospitalization in a good condition.Go to:

3. Discussion

The GI manifestations are the most frequently reported extra-pulmonary manifestations of COVID-19[2] with a prevalence of 10% to 50%.[4,5] The most commonly reported GI symptoms are nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain.[2,4,5] However, there have been case reports of COVID-19 cases presenting with other GI manifestations. Those include acute surgical abdomen,[6] lower GI bleeding[7] and nonbiliary pancreatitis.[8] In fact, the GI manifestations could be the presenting symptoms of COVID-19 as was reported in a case report by Siegel et al where the patient presented with abdominal pain and upon abdominal imaging, the patient was found to have pulmonary manifestations of COVID-19 in the CT scan of the lung bases.[9]

GI perforation is a surgical emergency, carries a significant mortality rate that could reach up to 90% due to peritonitis especially if complicated by multiple organ failure.[10] It can be caused by many reasons. Those include foreign body perforation, extrinsic bowel obstruction like in cases of GI tumors, intrinsic bowel obstruction like in cases of diverticulitis/appendicitis, loss of GI wall integrity such as peptic ulcer and inflammatory bowel disease in addition to GI ischemia and infections.[11] Several infections have been reported to result in GI perforation like Clostridium difficile, Mycobacterium tuberculosis, Cytomegalovirus and others.[1214] COVID-19 have been rarely reported to result in GI perforation. Till the date of writing this report only 13 cases[1523] have been reported in the literature (Table ​(Table2).2). In addition, Meini et al reported a case of pneumatosis intestinalis in association with COVID-19 but without perforation.[25]

Table 2

Summary of the previously published cases of gastrointestinal perforation in association with COVID-19.

First Author [Reference]Age/ SexCo-morbid ConditionsPresenting symptomsSeverity of COVID-19 pneumoniaCOVID-19 TherapySymptoms prompted investigations for GI perforationSite of PerforationTiming of Perforation post admissionManagement of PerforationOutcome
1Gonzalvez Guardiola et al [15]66 Y/ MMetabolic syndromeNot mentionedCriticalMethylprednisoloneTocilizumab Hydroxychloroquine AzithromycinLopinavir/RitonavirAbdominal painIncreased WBC and CRP.CecumNot mentionedRight colectomyNot mentioned
2De Nardi et al [16]53 Y/MHypertension Supra-ventricular tachycardiaFeverCoughDyspneaCriticalAnakinra Lopinavir/Ritonavir Hydroxychloroquine + AntibioticsAbdominal pain Abdominal distentionSigns of PeritonitisCecum11th day of admissionRight colectomy & ileo-transverse anastomosisDischarged Home
3Kangas-Dick et al [17]74 Y/MNegativeFeverDyspneaDry coughCriticalHydroxychloroquine +AntibioticsIncreased Oxygen requirementMarkedly distended abdomenNot specified (CT scan: Not done)5th day of admissionConservativeDied
4Galvez et al [18]59 Y/MStatus post laparoscopic Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgeryFeverDry coughMyalgiaHeadacheDyspneaModerateMethylprednisolone + COVID-19 protocol (Not specified)Acute abdominal painWorsening dyspneaGastro-jejunal anastomosis5th day of admissionLaparoscopy& Graham Patch RepairDischarged Home
5Poggiali et al [19]54 Y/ F§HypertensionFeverDry coughGERD symptomsSevereCOVID-19 therapy (Not specified) +AntibioticsAcute chest pain Painful abdomenDiaphragm StomachAt presentationSurgical RepairNot mentioned
6Corrêa Neto et al [20]80 Y/FHypertensionCoronary artery diseaseDry coughFeverDyspneaCriticalCOVID-19 therapy(Not specified) +AntibioticsDiffuse abdominal pain & stiffnessSigmoidAt PresentationLaparotomy with recto-sigmoidectomy & terminal colostomyDied
7Rojo et al [21]54 Y/FHypertensionObesityDyslipidemiaEpilepsyCough,MyalgiaCostal painCriticalHydroxychloroquine Lopinavir/Ritonavir MethylprednisoloneTocilizumabFeverHemodynamic instabilityAnemiaCecum15th day of admissionLaparotomy with right colectomy and ileostomyDied
8Kühn et al [22]59 Y/MNot mentionedFeverNauseaAbdominal pain Fatigue, HeadacheNot specifiedNot mentionedAbdominal painJejunal diverticulumAt presentationOpen small bowel segmental resection & anastomosisDischarged Home
9Seeliger et al [23]31Y/MNot mentionedDyspneaSevereNot mentionedNot mentionedLeft colonAt presentationLeft HemicolectomyDischarged Home
1082 Y/FDyspnea, DiarrhoeaCriticalSigmoidAt presentationOpen drainage of peritonitisDied
1171 Y/FFeverSevereGangrenous appendixAt presentationLaparoscopic appendectomyDischarged Home
1280Y/MNot mentionedSevereSigmoiditisAt presentationHartmann procedureDischarged Home
1377 Y/MDyspneaCriticalDuodenal ulcer23rd day of admissionOpen duodenal exclusion, omega gastro-enteric anastomosisDied
14This Report70Y/MT2DMFeverCoughCriticalMethylprednisolone HydroxychloroquineOseltamivir Enoxaparin+AntibioticsBleeding per rectumHemoglobin DropCecal mass44th day of admissionConservativeDischarged Home
1537Y/MMorbid obesityDyspneaCriticalInterferon B1Lopinavir/RitonavirRibavirinHydroxychloroquineOseltamivirDexamethasone+AntibioticsAir under diaphragm was found incidentally in a follow up CXRCecum4th day of admissionConservativeDischarged Home
1674Y/MT2DMCoughDyspnea Abdominal pain.SevereLopinavir/RitonavirRibavirinMethylprednisolone+AntibioticsAbdominal painSigns of peritonitisSigmoid diverticulosis/diverticulitisAt presentationExploratory laparotomy with Hartmann’s procedureDischarged Home

Open in a separate windowSeverity of COVID-19 pneumonia is based on classification of severity by Ministry of Health-Saudi Arabia.[24]Y = Year.M = Male.§F = Female.

Most of the previously reported cases presented initially with respiratory symptoms, 4 cases had also GI symptoms at presentation in the form of abdominal pain, stiffness, nausea and diarrhoea[19,20,22,23] [Table ​[Table2].2]. Eleven out of the 13 cases had severe-critical pneumonia that required either high flow oxygen, intubation or mechanical ventilation which is similar to our first 2 cases. This may indicate that GI perforation is more common in severe and critically ill COVID-19 cases. The most common symptoms which prompted investigations for bowel perforation were abdominal pain and distention [Table ​[Table2].2]. Other indications were signs of peritonitis,[16] worsening hemodynamics[17,18,21] and rising inflammatory markers.[15]

Only one of our cases had abdominal pain and tenderness at presentation. Another developed anemia due to active lower GI bleeding which is similar to the case published by Rojo et al[21] where the patient developed anemia and found to have hemoperitoneum with pericecal hematoma. This is probably explained by the site of perforation since both had cecal perforation. Our other case was diagnosed incidentally after demonstration of air under diaphragm in routine CXR. GI perforation was diagnosed from first day up to 23rd day of presentation with COVID-19 [Table ​[Table2].2]. Our patients had similar variable timing of GI perforation in relation to presentation with COVID-19. It ranged from the first day of diagnosis up to 40 days after presentation with COVID-19 pneumonia. This may tell us that GI perforation could happen at any time during the course of the infection. Our report demonstrates different presentation of GI perforation with COVID-19 since in 2 of the 3 cases, the infection predisposed to having perforation of an underlying GI lesions (cecal mass and diverticulosis). Only Kuhn et al reported similar presentation where the patient had perforation of jejunal diverticulum.[22] This may tell us that having COVID-19 predispose patients with underlying GI lesions to perforation. In addition, in our first case, we think that the source of Candidemia was most probably the bowel since it was persistent even after clearance of Candida Albican from the urine, but it was overlooked due to the absence of GI symptoms at the time of developing the Candidemia. In a study of 62 cases with peritonitis secondary to gastric perforation, Candida species was isolated in 23 cases in peritoneal fluid culture.[26] Therefore, in presence of Candidemia especially in absence of clear source, evaluation of the bowel as a potential source should always be kept in mind.

The effect of SARS-COV-2 virus on the GI system can be explained by different mechanisms. First, the virus uses the same access to enter respiratory and GI tract epithelium which are Angiotensin converting enzyme 2 receptors giving the virus the chance to replicate inside GI cells.[27] In addition, faecal-oral transmission has also been postulated, due to the presence of viral RNA in stool samples.[28] Perforation could result from altered colonic motility due to neuronal damage by the virus[29] in addition to local ischemia resulting from hypercoagulable state caused by the virus especially in critically ill patients.[30] Corrêa Neto et al reported finding ischemia of the entire GI tract during exploratory laparotomy for sigmoid perforation with COVID-19.[20] In addition, Rojo et al reported presence of microthrombi and wall necrosis in the pathology examination of his COVID-19 case with bowel perforation.[21] Other possible implicating factors are the use of Tocilizumab and high dose steroids.[21,31] Both are indicated in severe and critically ill COVID-19 cases. Steroids were used in all of our 3 cases since it is indicated in severe COVID-19 pneumonia according Saudi Arabian Ministry of health guidelines[24] but none of our patients received Tocilizumab. Some of these mechanisms could explain the higher risk of GI perforation in severe and critically ill COVID-19 patients.

The diagnosis of GI perforation is based mainly on radiological findings on CT scan. The most specific findings are segmental bowel wall thickening, focal bowel wall defect, or bubbles of extraluminal gas concentrated in close proximity to the bowel wall.[32] Treatment of GI perforation is mainly surgical in order to improve survival.[33] This is in line with the previously published cases where all were managed surgically except the one reported by Kangas-Dick et al due to the patient’s critical condition, so he was managed conservatively but unfortunately, he died.[17] However, in selected cases where there are no active signs of peritonitis, abdominal sepsis or having sealed perforation, conservative treatment is an acceptable management strategy.[34,35] This was the case in 2 of our cases who were managed conservatively. Fortunately, they did very well and had good outcome.Go to:

4. Conclusion

GI manifestations are common in patients with COVID-19. However, GI perforation is rarely reported in the literature. Severe and critically ill COVID-19 patients seem to be at a higher risk of this complication. It has a variable presentation in patients with COVID-19 ranging from incidental finding discovered only radiographically to acute abdomen. The presence of underlying GI lesion predisposes patients with COVID-19 to perforation. High index of suspicion is required in order to manage those patients further and thus, improve their outcome.

Author contributions

Conceptualization: Reem J. Al Argan, Safi G. Alqatari

Data curation: Reem J. Al Argan, Abdulsalam Noor, Lameyaa A. Al Sheekh

Writing – original draft: Reem J. Al Argan, Lameyaa A. Al Sheekh, Feda’a H. Al Beladi

Writing – review & editing: Reem J. Al Argan, Safi G. Alqatari, Abir H. Al Said, Raed M. AlsulaimanGo to:

Footnotes

Abbreviations: COVID-19 = corona virus disease-2019, CT = computed tomography, CXR = chest X-ray, ED = emergency department, GI = gastrointestinal, ICU = intensive care unit, LDH = lactate dehydrogenase, O2 sat = oxygen saturation, PCR = polymerase chain reaction, PR = Pulse rate, RA = room air, RR = respiratory rate, Temp = Temperature, T2DM = Type 2 diabetes mellitus.

How to cite this article: Al Argan RJ, Alqatari SG, Al Said AH, Alsulaiman RM, Noor A, Al Sheekh LA, Al Beladi FH. Gastrointestinal perforation secondary to COVID-19: Case reports and literature review. Medicine. 2021;100:19(e25771).

The authors have no funding and conflicts of interests to disclose.

Data sharing not applicable to this article as no datasets were generated or analyzed during the current study.Go to:

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HOW COVID-19 AFFECTS THE GUT: SCIENTISTS UNCOVER A RARE SIDE EFFECT

Authors: published on The Conversation by Vincent Ho at Western Sydney University.

Although we might think of Covid-19 as a respiratory disease, we know it involves the gut. In fact, SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19, enters our cells by latching onto protein receptors called ACE2. And the greatest numbers of ACE2 receptors are in the cells that line the gut.

Covid-19 patients with gut symptoms are also more likely to develop severe disease. That’s partly because even after the virus has been cleared from the respiratory system, it can persist in the gut of some patients for several days. That leads to a high level of virus and longer-lasting disease.

We also suspect the virus can be transmitted via the fecal-oral route. In other words, the virus can be shed in someone’s poo, and then transmitted to someone else if they handle it and touch their mouth.

WHAT TYPE OF GUT SYMPTOMS ARE WE TALKING ABOUT?

review of more than 25,000 Covid-19 patients found about 18% had gastrointestinal symptoms. The most common was diarrhea followed by nausea and vomiting. Abdominal pain was considered rare. In another study only about 2% of Covid-19 patients had abdominal pain.

Some people believe Covid-19 causes abdominal pain through inflammation of the nerves of the gut. This is a similar way to how gastroenteritis (gastro) causes abdominal pain.

Another explanation for the pain is that Covid-19 can lead to a sudden loss of blood supply to abdominal organs, such as the kidneys, resulting in tissue death (infarction).

ARE GUT SYMPTOMS RECOGNIZED?

The US Centers for Disease Control has added diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting to its list of recognized Covid-19 symptoms.

However, the World Health Organization still only lists diarrhea as a gastrointestinal Covid-19 symptom.

In Australia, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting are listed as other Covid-19 symptoms, alongside the classic ones (which include fever, cough, sore throat and shortness of breath). But abdominal pain is not listed.

Advice of symptoms that warrant testing may vary across different states and territories.

HOW LIKELY IS IT?

Doctors often use the concept of pre-test probability when working out if someone has a particular disease. This is the chance a person has the disease before we know the test result.

What makes it difficult to determine the pre-test probability for Covid-19 is we don’t know how many people in the community truly have the disease.

We do know, however, Covid-19 in Australia is much less common than in many other countries. This affects the way we view symptoms that aren’t typically associated with Covid-19.

It’s far more common for people’s abdominal pain to be caused by something other than Covid-19. For example, about a quarter of people at some point in their lives are known to suffer from dyspepsia (discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen). But the vast majority of people with dyspepsia do not have Covid-19.

Similarly, irritable bowel syndrome affects about 9% of Australians, and causes diarrhea. Again, the vast majority of people with irritable bowel syndrome do not have Covid-19.

SO HOW ABOUT THIS LATEST CASE?

In the Queensland case, we know the nurse was worried he could have had Covid-19 because he was in close contact with Covid-19 patients.

As he seemed otherwise healthy before developing new abdominal symptoms, and considering he worked on a Covid ward, his pre-test probability was high. Doctors call this a “high index of suspicion” when there is a strong possibility someone may have symptoms due to a disease such as Covid-19.

WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ME?

If you have new gastrointestinal symptoms and you’ve potentially been in contact with someone with COVID-19 or if you also have other classic Covid-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath and sore throat) you should definitely get tested.

If you have just gastrointestinal symptoms, you may need to get tested if you’re in a “hotspot” area, or work in a high-risk occupation or industry.

If you have gastrointestinal symptoms alone, without any of these additional risk factors, there is no strong evidence to support testing.

However, if Covid-19 becomes even more common in the community, these symptoms now regarded as uncommon for Covid-19 will become more common.

If you have concerns about any gastrointestinal symptoms, seeing your GP would be sensible. Your GP will provide a balanced assessment based on your medical history and risk profile.

Multiple Early Factors Anticipate Post-Acute COVID-19 Sequelae

Highlights

  • Longitudinal multiomics associate PASC with autoantibodies, viremia and comorbidities
  • Reactivation of latent viruses during initial infection may contribute to PASC
  • Subclinical autoantibodies negatively correlate with anti-SARS-CoV-2 antibodies
  • Gastrointestinal PASC uniquely present with post-acute expansion of cytotoxic T cells

SUMMARY

Post-acute sequelae of COVID-19 (PASC) represent an emerging global crisis. However, quantifiable risk-factors for PASC and their biological associations are poorly resolved. We executed a deep multi-omic, longitudinal investigation of 309 COVID-19 patients from initial diagnosis to convalescence (2-3 months later), integrated with clinical data, and patient-reported symptoms. We resolved four PASC-anticipating risk factors at the time of initial COVID-19 diagnosis: type 2 diabetes, SARS-CoV-2 RNAemia, Epstein-Barr virus viremia, and specific autoantibodies. In patients with gastrointestinal PASC, SARS-CoV-2-specific and CMV-specific CD8+ T cells exhibited unique dynamics during recovery from COVID-19. Analysis of symptom-associated immunological signatures revealed coordinated immunity polarization into four endotypes exhibiting divergent acute severity and PASC. We find that immunological associations between PASC factors diminish over time leading to distinct convalescent immune states. Detectability of most PASC factors at COVID-19 diagnosis emphasizes the importance of early disease measurements for understanding emergent chronic conditions and suggests PASC treatment strategies.

Article Info

Publication History

Accepted: January 19, 2022Received in revised form: December 14, 2021Received: September 29, 2021

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