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New research: Coronavirus infects oral cells – What is the role of saliva in transmitting the virus?

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Laboratory studies show that asymptomatic saliva may infect oral cells in healthy people

A team of scientists has announced that it has found for the first time solid evidence that SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can also infect oral cells. This probably highlights the role of saliva in the transmission of the virus. The researchers stressed that “the mouth, through its infected cells, plays a greater role in Covid-19 infection than previously thought.”

It has been known that although the lungs are the main target of Covid-19 infection, coronavirus can infect other parts of the body, such as the digestive system, blood vessels. The new study shows that the mouth should be added to the list.

Infection of the mouth, in addition to symptoms such as loss of taste, dry mouth, and cold sores that some patients have, probably indicates that the mouth plays a role in transmitting the virus through saliva, when it contains a large viral load of infected cells.

The researchers, led by scientists from the US National Institutes of Health, who published the study in the medical journal Nature Medicine, said it was known that saliva in patients with Covid-19 may contain large amounts of coronavirus. Studies have already shown that the saliva test is almost as reliable as the nasopharyngeal to diagnose the disease.

What scientists weren’t sure about until now is where the saliva coronavirus comes from. In patients with Covid-19 who have respiratory symptoms, the virus in saliva probably comes, at least in part, from the secretions of the nose and lungs. But the same explanation may not apply to how coronavirus exists in the saliva of patients without respiratory symptoms. The conclusion from the new research is that at least part of this virus comes from infected tissues of the mouth itself.

The researchers found in the lab that certain parts of the mouth are more vulnerable to coronavirus infection, which they confirmed by analyzing samples from patients who had died due to Covid-19. This was followed by the discovery that even in people with mild or asymptomatic Covid-19 there is evidence of infection of their oral tissues by the virus.

Finally, scientists have shown in the laboratory that asymptomatic saliva can infect the cells of healthy people, which raises the possibility that even people without symptoms can transmit Covid-19 infection through saliva to others.

“When infected saliva is swallowed or tiny particles of it are inhaled, we think it can potentially transmit SARS-CoV-2 further into our throats, our lungs, or even our guts,” said Kevin Byrd, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina.

The researchers said further research would be needed to confirm these findings in a larger sample of people and to determine the exact involvement of the mouth in coronavirus infection, as well as its involvement in the transmission of the virus both inside and outside a patient’s body.

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