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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Gastrointestinal perforation secondary to COVID-19

Authors: Case reports and literature review 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

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, diarrhea 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 perforation. 

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.

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

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Severity 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.

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.

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Review of COVID-19, part 1: Abdominal manifestations in adults and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children

Authors: Devaraju Kanmaniraja,a,⁎ Jessica Kurian,a Justin Holder,a Molly Somberg Gunther,a Victoria Chernyak,b Kevin Hsu,a Jimmy Lee,a Andrew Mcclelland,a Shira E. Slasky,a Jenna Le,a and Zina J. Riccia

Abstract

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID -19) pandemic caused by the novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has affected almost every country in the world, resulting in severe morbidity, mortality and economic hardship, and altering the landscape of healthcare forever. Although primarily a pulmonary illness, it can affect multiple organ systems throughout the body, sometimes with devastating complications and long-term sequelae. As we move into the second year of this pandemic, a better understanding of the pathophysiology of the virus and the varied imaging findings of COVID-19 in the involved organs is crucial to better manage this complex multi-organ disease and to help improve overall survival. This manuscript provides a comprehensive overview of the pathophysiology of the virus along with a detailed and systematic imaging review of the extra-thoracic manifestation of COVID-19 with the exception of unique cardiothoracic features associated with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). In Part I, extra-thoracic manifestations of COVID-19 in the abdomen in adults and features of MIS-C will be reviewed. In Part II, manifestations of COVID-19 in the musculoskeletal, central nervous and vascular systems will be reviewed.

Keywords: Abdominal imaging, COVID-19, Multisystem inflammatory syndrome

1. Abdominal findings of COVID019 in adults

The coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19), which originated in Wuhan, China, has quickly become a global pandemic, bringing normal life to a standstill in almost all countries around the world. The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is a novel virus preceded by two other recent coronavirus infections, the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV-1) and the Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS–CoV), but it has more far-reaching and devastating consequences. As of March 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in over 29 million cases in the United States and over 121 million cases globally. As of April 2021, it is responsible for the deaths of over half a million people in the United States and more than 2 ½ million worldwide [1]. As the disease has evolved over the past year, so has our understanding of the virus, including its pathophysiology, clinical presentation and imaging manifestations. Although COVID-19 is predominately a pulmonary illness, it is now established to have widespread extra-pulmonary involvement affecting multiple organ systems. The SARS-CoV-2 has a highly virulent spike protein which binds efficiently to the angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors which are expressed in many organs, including the airways, lung parenchyma, several organs in the abdomen, particularly the kidneys and GI system, central nervous system and the smooth and skeletal muscles of the body [2]. The virus initially induces a specific adaptive immune response, and when this response is ineffective, it results in uncontrolled inflammation, which ultimately results in tissue injury [2].

This article provides a comprehensive review of the pathophysiology and imaging findings of the extra-thoracic manifestations of COVID-19 with the exception of unique cardiothoracic features associated with multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C). In Part I, extra-thoracic manifestations of COVID-19 in the abdomen in adults and the varying features of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children will be reviewed, with imaging findings summarized in Table 1Table 2 . In Part II, manifestations of COVID-19 in the musculoskeletal system, the central nervous system and central and peripheral vascular systems will be reviewed.

Table 1

Summary of abdominal imaging findings in COVID-19 in adults.

OrganImaging findings
Liver• Hepatomegaly
• Increased or coarsened echogenicity on US
• Hypoattenuation on non-contrast or contrast enhanced CT
• Periportal edema and heterogeneous enhancement on CT
• Loss of signal on opposed-phase sequences on MRI
• Portal vein thrombus
Pancreas• Features of acute interstitial pancreatitis
Biliary Tree• Biliary ductal dilatation
Kidney• Increased or heterogeneous parenchymal echogenicity on US
• Loss of corticomedullary differentiation on US
• Preserved cortical thickness
• Perinephric fat stranding and thickening of Gerota’s fascia on CT
• Wedge shaped perfusion defects on CT or MRI
• Thrombus in the renal artery or vein
Gallbladder• Distension
• Mural edema
• Sludge
• Acalculous cholecystitis
Urinary Bladder• Bladder wall thickening
• Mural hyperenhancement
• Perivesicular stranding
Bowel• Mural thickening
• Ileus
• Fluid-filled colon
• Pneumatosis intestinalis
• Portal vein gas
• Pneumoperitoneum
• Acute mesenteric ischemia
• Vascular occlusion (superior mesenteric artery, superior mesenteric vein, or portal vein)
• Mesenteric fat stranding, ascites
• Active gastrointestinal bleeding (duodenal or gastric ulcer) on CTA
• Clostridium difficile colitis
• Ischemic colitis
Spleen• Wedge shaped perfusion defects on CT or MRI
• Thrombus in the splenic artery or vein

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Table 2

Summary of imaging findings in Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children.

RegionImaging findings
Cardiothoracic• Bilateral symmetric diffuse airspace opacities with lower lobe predominance on CXR
• Diffuse ground glass opacity, septal thickening, and mild hilar lymphadenopathy on CT
• Bilateral pleural effusions
• Cardiomegaly
• Pericardial effusion
• Myocarditis pattern on cardiac MRI
Abdominal• Mesenteric lymphadenopathy, most common in right lower quadrant
• Mesenteric edema
• Ascites
• Bowel wall thickening
• Ileus
• Hepatosplenomegaly
• Gallbladder wall thickening

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2. Abdominal findings of COVID-19 in adults

2.1. Hepatobiliary derangement

Varying derangements of the liver, biliary system, gallbladder, portal vein and pancreas may occur in COVID-19 with hepatic parenchymal injury and biliary stasis reported with highest frequency. The mechanism of involvement of these structures appears to be multifactorial. The most direct form of injury results from SARS CoV-2 entry into host cells by binding to ACE2 receptors detected in several locations in the hepatobiliary system, including biliary epithelial cells (cholangiocytes), gallbladder endothelial cells and both pancreatic islet cells and exocrine glands [[3][4][5][6]].

2.1.1. Hepatic injury

Direct SARS CoV-2 entry into cholangiocytes may cause liver damage by disrupting bile acid transportation or by triggering acid accumulation resulting in liver injury [7]. Systemic inflammation, hypoxia inducing hepatitis and adverse drug reactions may incite liver injury [8]. Several drugs commonly used to treat COVID-19 patients, including acetaminophen, lopinavir and ritonavir can be hepatotoxic [9]. One study excluding COVID-19 patients receiving hepatotoxic drugs, still found patients with liver injury. Therefore, liver damage in COVID-19 patients is likely not entirely drug-induced but may also be due to acute infection [8,9]. Furthermore, since patients with chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis, autoimmune liver disease and prior liver transplantation are more susceptible to COVID-19 infection [9], underlying conditions may also contribute to liver injury.

The most frequent hepatic derangement is abnormal liver function tests reported in 16–53% of patients [10,11] and including raised levels of alanine aminotransferase, aspartate aminotransferase, and γ-glutamyl transferase with mild elevation of bilirubin. The majority of cases are mild and self-limited, with severe liver damage rare [7]. Liver injury is most prevalent in the second week of COVID-19 infection, and has a higher incidence in those with gastrointestinal symptoms and more severe infection [9]. Based on a meta-analysis of hepatic autopsy findings of deceased COVID-19 patients in 7 countries, hepatic steatosis (55%), hepatic sinus congestion (35%) and vascular thrombosis (29%) were the most common [10]. In a retrospective study of abdominal imaging findings of 37 COVID-19 patients, 27% who underwent ultrasound had increased hepatic echogenicity considered to represent fatty liver with elevated liver enzymes being the most frequent indication for ultrasound [4]. It should be noted that since obesity is a major risk factor for severe COVID-19 infection, it might contribute to the frequency of steatosis identified on imaging. In another retrospective abdominal sonographic study of 30 ICU patients with COVID-19, the most common finding was hepatomegaly (56%), with most cases having increased hepatic echogenicity and elevated liver function tests [12]. In the only retrospective case-control study of 204 COVID-19 patients who underwent non-contrast chest CT scan, steatosis was found in 31.9% of cases and only 7.1% of controls [13]. Steatosis was based on a single ROI measurement in the right lobe with an attenuation value ≤ 40 HU. However, underlying risk factors for steatosis such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and abnormal lipid profile, were not available to exclude preexisting conditions leading to steatosis. Finally, unlike in the spleen and kidney where infarcts are reported in COVID-19, hepatic infarction is not a distinct feature. This is likely due to the liver’s unique dual blood supply.

On imaging the liver may be enlarged. On ultrasound, the liver of patients with abnormal liver function tests may be coarsened and/or increased in echogenicity (Fig. 1Fig. 2 ). On CT scan, the liver may be hypoattenuated on non-contrast or contrast-enhanced exam due to steatosis (Fig. 3 ). Periportal edema and heterogeneity of hepatic enhancement may be seen on contrast-enhanced CT or MRI due to parenchymal inflammation. On MRI, loss of signal on opposed-phase sequences (Fig. 4 ) may be seen due to steatosis and periportal edema may be conspicuous on T2-weighted images or on contrast-enhanced images [7,8,14]. Periportal lymphadenopathy, typical of chronic liver disease, is not reported in COVID-19 [8]. In patients with severe COVID-19 infection, ancillary manifestations of hepatic inflammation and injury, such as parenchymal attenuation changes and abscesses may be seen (Fig. 5 ).

This Article Presents a Detailed Overview with Imaging. To View the Rest of This Analysis Click Here:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8223038/

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Post COVID-19 Vaccination – First Reported Case

Authors: Mohamad BakirHanan AlmeshalRifah AlturkiSulaiman ObaidAreej Almazroo


Published: August 16, 2021

Abstract

Stevens-Johnson syndrome/toxic epidermal necrolysis (SJS/TEN) is a spectrum of acute, delayed-type hypersensitivity reactions that affect the skin and the mucous membranes. Medications are the culprit cause of these disorders in addition to infections and in very rare instances vaccinations. We report a case of TEN in a 49-year-old woman with no previous medical history. The disorder developed one week after receiving the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine with no other identifiable causes. The patient received two doses of tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitor (etanercept) and she stopped developing new lesions after two days of the initial dose; complete healing was observed after 22 days and no side effects were observed in our patient. This case demonstrates an extremely rare complication to the COVID-19 vaccine. The benefits of receiving the COVID-19 outweigh the potential risk. 

Introduction

Toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) is a rare immune-mediated, life-threatening skin reaction characterized by blistering and extensive epidermal detachment of more than 30% of body surface area. The incidence is estimated to be 0.4 to 1.9 cases per million population per year worldwide and an estimated mortality rate of 25% to 35% [1, 2]. Medication is usually the cause of TEN (e.g., certain antibiotics and antiepileptics) [3]. Vaccination-induced Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS)/TEN is rare, with less than twenty reported cases in the published literature, with the measles vaccine being reported to cause both SJS and TEN, varicella, smallpox, anthrax, tetanus, and influenza vaccines were reported to cause SJS alone, and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), hantavirus and meningococcal B vaccines were reported to cause TEN [4, 5, 6]. The patient usually develops a fever and other flu-like symptoms one to three weeks after being exposed to medication followed by painful erythematous to purpuric skin lesions that tend to coalescence. Next erosions and vesiculobullous lesions and epidermal detachment over wide body surface area develop. Mucous membranes are also involved, and the patient develops oral ulcers, vaginal ulcers, and possible acute conjunctivitis [7]. In this paper, we report a case of TEN following the administration of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer, Inc., New York, USA).

For More Information: https://www.cureus.com/articles/68051-toxic-epidermal-necrolysis-post-covid-19-vaccination—first-reported-case

Pathological findings in organs and tissues of patients with COVID-19: A systematic review

Authors: Sasha Peiris 1 2Hector Mesa 3Agnes Aysola 4Juan Manivel 5Joao Toledo 1 2Marcio Borges-Sa 6Sylvain Aldighieri 1 2Ludovic Reveiz 2 7

Abstract

Background: Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 that has caused more than 2.2 million deaths worldwide. We summarize the reported pathologic findings on biopsy and autopsy in patients with severe/fatal COVID-19 and documented the presence and/or effect of SARS-CoV-2 in all organs.

Methods and findings: A systematic search of the PubMed, Embase, MedRxiv, Lilacs and Epistemonikos databases from January to August 2020 for all case reports and case series that reported histopathologic findings of COVID-19 infection at autopsy or tissue biopsy was performed. 603 COVID-19 cases from 75 of 451 screened studies met inclusion criteria. The most common pathologic findings were lungs: diffuse alveolar damage (DAD) (92%) and superimposed acute bronchopneumonia (27%); liver: hepatitis (21%), heart: myocarditis (11.4%). Vasculitis was common only in skin biopsies (25%). Microthrombi were described in the placenta (57.9%), lung (38%), kidney (20%), Central Nervous System (CNS) (18%), and gastrointestinal (GI) tract (2%). Injury of endothelial cells was common in the lung (18%) and heart (4%). Hemodynamic changes such as necrosis due to hypoxia/hypoperfusion, edema and congestion were common in kidney (53%), liver (48%), CNS (31%) and GI tract (18%). SARS-CoV-2 viral particles were demonstrated within organ-specific cells in the trachea, lung, liver, large intestine, kidney, CNS either by electron microscopy, immunofluorescence, or immunohistochemistry. Additional tissues were positive by Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests only. The included studies were from numerous countries, some were not peer reviewed, and some studies were performed by subspecialists, resulting in variable and inconsistent reporting or over statement of the reported findings.

Conclusions: The main pathologic findings of severe/fatal COVID-19 infection are DAD, changes related to coagulopathy and/or hemodynamic compromise. In addition, according to the observed organ damage myocarditis may be associated with sequelae.

For More Information: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33909679/

Cytokeratin 18 cell death assays as biomarkers for quantification of apoptosis and necrosis in COVID-19: a prospective, observational study

Authors: Brandon Michael Henry1http://orcid.org/0000-0002-1211-8247Isaac Cheruiyot2, Stefanie W Benoit3,4, Fabian Sanchis-Gomar5,6http://orcid.org/0000-0001-9523-9054Giuseppe Lippi7, Justin Benoit8 Correspondence to Dr Brandon Michael Henry, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA;

Abstract

Background The mechanism by which SARS-CoV-2 triggers cell damage and necrosis are yet to be fully elucidated. We sought to quantify epithelial cell death in patients with COVID-19, with an estimation of relative contributions of apoptosis and necrosis.

Methods Blood samples were collected prospectively from adult patients presenting to the emergency department. Circulating levels of caspase-cleaved (apoptosis) and total cytokeratin 18 (CK-18) (total cell death) were determined using M30 and M65 enzyme assays, respectively. Intact CK-18 (necrosis) was estimated by subtracting M30 levels from M65.

Results A total of 52 COVID-19 patients and 27 matched sick controls (with respiratory symptoms not due to COVID-19) were enrolled. Compared with sick controls, COVID-19 patients had higher levels of M65 (p = 0.046, total cell death) and M30 (p = 0.0079, apoptosis). Hospitalised COVID-19 patients had higher levels of M65 (p= 0.014) and intact CK-18 (p= 0.004, necrosis) than discharged patients. Intensive care unit (ICU)-admitted COVID-19 patients had higher levels of M65 (p= 0.004), M30 (p= 0.004) and intact CK-18 (p= 0.033) than hospitalised non-ICU admitted patients. In multivariable logistic regression, elevated levels of M65, M30 and intact CK-18 were associated with increased odds of ICU admission (OR=22.05, p=0.014, OR=19.71, p=0.012 and OR=14.12, p=0.016, respectively).

Conclusion Necrosis appears to be the main driver of hospitalization, whereas apoptosis and necrosis appear to drive ICU admission. Elevated levels CK-18 levels are independent predictors of severe disease, and could be useful for risk stratification of COVID-19 patients and in assessment of therapeutic efficacy in early-phase COVID-19 clinical trials.

For More Information: https://jcp.bmj.com/content/early/2021/03/30/jclinpath-2020-207242