Wuhan virus may transmit along faecal-oral route, Xinhua reports

An elderly man wearing a mask walks in the village at sunrise in Jianli county, Hubei province, China, on Jan 28, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

BEIJING (BLOOMBERG) - The coronavirus that has infected more than 14,000 people in two dozen countries may be transmitted through the digestive tract, Chinese state media reported.

Virus genetic material was discovered in patient stool and rectal swabs, Xinhua said on Sunday (Feb 2).

The finding was made by scientists from the Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University and the Wuhan Institute of Virology of the Chinese Academy of Sciences after noting that some patients infected with the coronavirus had diarrhoea early in the disease, instead of a fever, which is more common, the report said.

That means the pathogen might be transmitted along the faecal-oral route, not just from coming into contact with virus-laden droplets emitted from a sick person's cough.

Doctors have focused on respiratory samples from pneumonia cases to identify coronavirus patients, but they might have ignored diarrhoea, a less apparent potential source of the spread, Bloomberg News reported last Saturday.

Diarrhoea occurred in about 10 to 20 per cent of patients afflicted with a related virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome.

A virus-laden aerosol plume emanating from a Sars patient with diarrhoea was implicated in possibly hundreds of cases at Hong Kong's Amoy Gardens housing complex in 2003.

That led the city's researchers to understand the importance of the virus's spread through the gastrointestinal tract, and to recognise both the limitation of face masks and importance of cleanliness and hygiene.

The first US case experienced diarrhoea before becoming ill with pneumonia and his doctors at the Providence Regional Medical Centre Everett in Washington found specimens were positive for the Wuhan coronavirus.

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