A recent study showed that 1 in 5 people who tested positive for COVID-19 had at least one gastrointestinal symptom, such as diarrhea, vomiting, or belly pain. Of those hospitalized, 25.9% had gastrointestinal issues.
Once any virus infects your body, it can destroy healthy cells and make multiple copies of itself. COVID-19 mainly attacks the cells lining your airways. This makes it hard for you to breathe and can lead to pneumonia. But researchers think the illness also may harm your digestive tract and liver tissue.
Lack of appetite is the most common symptom, followed by loss or taste and smell. Up to 34% experience diarrhea, lasting an average of 5 days.
Those with digestive symptoms were more likely to have a positive stool test for the coronavirus, which means they had SARS-CoV-2 RNA in their poop. It also took them longer to clear the virus from their bodies, compared to those without gastrointestinal symptoms.
What You Should Do
If you have diarrhea, nausea, or vomiting, it doesn't mean that you have COVID-19. But it's wise to pay extra attention to your symptoms during this pandemic, especially if you have a health condition that raises your chances for an infection or if you live in an area where coronavirus is widespread.
Stay home. Most people who test positive for the coronavirus get mildly sick and get better without treatment. Avoid going out unless you must, such as for urgent medical visits.
Have a “sick” bedroom and bathroom. If you can, use a separate bathroom for yourself if you live with others to prevent spreading illness through your poop.
Wash your hands often. Soap and water for at least 20 seconds is best, especially after you use the bathroom, blow your nose, or sneeze, and before eating or cooking. Next best is a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
Clean and disinfect surfaces regularly. This includes the toilet seat and flush handle, bathroom doorknobs, phones, counters, and other things you touch often.
Drink lots of fluids. If you have diarrhea or are vomiting, it's important to replace the lost fluids. An oral rehydration solution from the drugstore is best because it has salt and sugar that your body loses in diarrhea. Or you can sip watered-down fruit juices or soft drinks, along with salted crackers and broths.
Eat a bland diet. Try foods like bananas, white rice, applesauce, and toast, which can help limit your urge to poop and replenish carbohydrates that your body needs. You can also try oatmeal, boiled or baked potatoes, and baked chicken without skin.
When to Call Your Doctor
If your stomach troubles are due to a GI bug or food poisoning, you usually should feel better within 48 hours. If you don't, call your doctor. It could be a more serious bacterial infection or an early sign of COVID-19. You should also reach out to them immediately if you:
- Might be severely dehydrated. Signs include dark urine, extreme weakness, a dry mouth and tongue, and dizziness.
- Have diarrhea that is bloody or black, or severe belly pain
- Are feverish, coughing, or feel short of breath
- Call your doctor right away for a child with diarrhea or fever.