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Study: Coronavirus can infect cells in the mouth

Published Nov 9, 2020


CAPE TOWN - In a new study, researchers identify tissue in the mouth which may be most vulnerable to Covid-19 possibly increasing the spread to the rest of the body and contributing to transmission.

In the study, that has been published in medRxiv, researchers found vulnerable tissue in the mouth and examined RNA - which is a molecule that instructs the body on protein production in cells - discovering that specifically salivary glands, the tongue and tonsils contain most RNA proteins that Covid-19 requires in order to bind and infect.

The researchers then sampled saliva from Covid-19 patients and discovered infected cells within the samples with higher counts of the virus resulted in patients who were more likely to suffer from symptoms such as loss of smell and taste although asymptomatic patients contained infect cells in their saliva too.

"Our study shows that the mouth is a route of infection as well as an incubator for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19," Dr. Kevin Byrd, a research scholar and manager of Oral and Craniofacial Research at the American Dental Association Science and Research Institute, told Live Science.

"Theoretically, SARS-CoV-2 infection in the mouth could cause changes in saliva production or quality, contributing to symptoms of taste loss," Byrd said. "Future research could reveal how this mouth infection affects the course of illness in COVID-19 patients, as well as how those infected cells contribute to the spread of the coronavirus between people."

Their findings have led to the need for further research with the team collaborating with the Human Cell Atlas to develop a tool to assist future oral infection studies with a map of cells in the mouth which contains specific RNA and where based on their findings.

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