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2020 Apr 24

J Visc Surg

What do surgeons need to know about the digestive disorders and paraclinical abnormalities induced by COVID-19?



The symptoms associated with COVID-19 are mainly characterized by a triad composed of fever, dry cough and dyspnea. However, digestive symptoms have also been reported. At first considered as infrequent, they in fact seem to affect more than half of patients. The symptoms mainly include anorexia, diarrhea, nausea and/or vomiting and abdominal pain. Even though prognosis is associated with lung injury, digestive symptoms seem significantly more frequent in patients presenting with severe COVID-19 infection. Digestive presentations, which may be isolated or which can precede pulmonary symptoms, have indeed been reported, with diarrhea as a leading clinical sign. The main biological abnormalities that can suggest COVID-19 infection at an early stage are lymphopenia, elevated CRP and heightened ASAT transaminases. Thoraco-abdominal scan seems useful as a means of on the one hand ruling out digestive pathology not connected with coronavirus and on the other hand searching for pulmonary images consistent with COVID-19 infection. No data exist on the value of digestive endoscopy in cases of persistent digestive symptoms. Moreover, the endoscopists may themselves be at significant risk of contamination. Fecal-oral transmission of the infection is possible, especially insofar as viral shedding in stools seems frequent and of longer duration than at the ENT level, including in patients with negative throat swab and without digestive symptoms. In some doubtful cases, virologic assessment of stool samples can yield definitive diagnosis. In the event of prolonged viral shedding in stools, a patient's persistent contagiousness is conceivable but not conclusively established. Upcoming serology should enable identification of the patients having been infected by the COVID-19 epidemic, particularly among previously undetected pauci-symptomatic members of a health care staff. Resumption of medico-surgical activity should be the object of a dedicated strategy preceding deconfinement.