GI tract hides COVID-19-related receptors in some patients, study says

Barrett's esophagus patients may be more vulnerable to COVID-19 infection in their upper gastrointestinal tract after eating or drinking food contaminated with the virus, according to a study published Jan. 20 in Gastroenterology.

Cells in a healthy esophagus cannot bind with the virus, but patients with Barrett's have receptors for the virus to which cells can bind to and become infected.

Jason Mills, MD, PhD, senior study investigator, said more research is needed to see how COVID-19 affects patients with Barrett's esophagus.

Barrett's alters esophageal cells to act similar to intestinal cells and that is why these patients may face a higher risk from eating or drinking COVID-19 contaminated food.

"The worry would be that, particularly for Barrett's patients, there even may be a susceptibility to infection from food containing viral particles," Dr. Mills said. "This study provides data to indicate that we need to take a closer look to investigate whether a substantial portion of the population may be susceptible to infection through what they swallow."

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