Rutgers scientists took a close look at how the COVID-19 virus affected the microbiome of COVID-19 patients. 

The microbiome is the collection of microorganisms that live in and on the human body. 

Rutgers scientists took a close look at how the COVID-19 virus affected the microbiome of COVID-19 patients. 

Reporting in the scientific journal Molecular Biomedicine, researchers presented the initial findings of an ongoing study analyzing the microbiome of patients and volunteers at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick. Many people who contracted COVID-19, particularly in the early stages of the pandemic in May 2020, had gastrointestinal distress, prompting the researchers to focus their investigation on the microbiome.

“We wanted to gain a deeper understanding by looking at specimens that would give us an indication about the state of the gut microbiome in people,” says author Martin Blaser. “What we found was that, while there were differences between people who had COVID-19 and those who were not ill, the biggest difference from others was seen in those who had been administered antibiotics.”

As Blaser, a professor of medicine and pathology and laboratory medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, explained, treating COVID-19 patients with antibiotics to try to target possible secondary infections was common practice in the early days of the pandemic, before the introduction of vaccines and other antiviral remedies.

Blaser said that people carry many different kinds of microbes on their bodies. These bacteria exist in the gastrointestinal system, on the skin and in other organs, with the highest number in the colon. The microbiome interacts with metabolism, the immune system, and the central nervous system to influence human health, as researchers like Blaser have shown over the last several decades.

The microbiome serves several purposes. According to Blaser, “one is to protect the human body against invading pathogens, whether they’re bacteria or viruses or fungi. That goes deep into evolution, maybe a billion years of evolution.”

Dysbiosis is the condition that occurs when the healthy balance of helpful and pathogenic bacteria in a person’s microbiome is disrupted, which may lead to a variety of health problems.

The team studied microbiomes by measuring populations of microorganisms in stool samples taken from 60 subjects.  Twenty people with COVID-19, twenty healthy donors, and twenty people who had previously been infected with COVID-19 were included in the research. When comparing the microbiomes of sick patients with those of healthy and recovered patients, they discovered significant changes in the population counts of 55 distinct kinds of bacteria.

Rutgers scientists aim to continue testing and monitoring the microbiomes of study participants in order to see the long-term impact of COVID-19 on individual microbiomes.

“Further investigation of patients will enhance understanding of the role of the gut microbiome in COVID-19 disease progression and recovery,” Blaser added. “These findings may help identify microbial targets and probiotic supplements for improving COVID-19 treatment.”

Image Credit: Getty


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