Background & aims: Infection with SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19, which has been characterized by fever, respiratory, and gastrointestinal symptoms as well as shedding of virus RNA into feces. We performed a systematic review and meta-analysis of published gastrointestinal symptoms and detection of virus in stool, and also summarized data from a cohort of patients with COVID-19 in Hong Kong.
Methods: We collected data from the cohort of patients with COVID-19 in Hong Kong (n=59; diagnosis from February 2 through Feb 29, 2020), and searched PubMed, Embase, Cochrane and three Chinese databases through March 11, 2020 according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidelines. We analyzed pooled data on the prevalence of overall and individual gastrointestinal symptoms (anorexia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain or discomfort) using a random effects model.
Results: Among the 59 patients with COVID-19 in Hong Kong, 15 patients (25.4%) had gastrointestinal symptoms and 9 patients (15.3%) had stool that tested positive for virus RNA. Stool viral RNA was detected in 38.5% and 8.7% among those with and without diarrhea, respectively (P=.02). The median fecal viral load was 5.1 log10cpm in patients with diarrhea vs 3.9 log10cpm in patients without diarrhea (P=.06). In a meta-analysis of 60 studies, comprising 4243 patients, the pooled prevalence of all gastrointestinal symptoms was 17.6% (95% CI, 12.3%-24.5%); 11.8% of patients with non-severe COVID-19 had gastrointestinal symptoms (95% CI, 4.1%-29.1%) and 17.1% of patients with severe COVID-19 had gastrointestinal symptoms (95% CI, 6.9%-36.7%). In the meta-analysis, the pooled prevalence of stool samples that were positive for virus RNA was 48.1% (95% CI, 38.3%-57.9%); of these samples, 70.3% of those collected after loss of virus from respiratory specimens tested positive for the virus (95% CI, 49.6%-85.1%).
Conclusions: In an analysis of data from the Hong Kong cohort of patients with COVID-19 and a meta-analysis of findings from publications, we found that 17.6% of patients with COVID-19 had gastrointestinal symptoms. Virus RNA was detected in stool samples from 48.1% patients-even in stool collected after respiratory samples tested negative. Healthcare workers should therefore exercise caution in collecting fecal samples or performing endoscopic procedures in patients with COVID-19-even during patient recovery.
Keywords: PRISMA; SARS; fecal to oral transmission; viral persistence.
Copyright © 2020 AGA Institute. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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