COVID variant or gastrointestinal illness?

According to physicians and public health officials, patients with gastrointestinal symptoms have been relating symptoms that, in some cases, are linked to the Omicron subvariant BA.2. However, since many countries have stopped testing and other precautions measures, it has become hard to identify which illness a person has.

Zain Chagla, an infectious disease physician in Hamilton, Ontario, is one of the health officials that have seen an uptick in patients with COVID-19 and gastrointestinal illnesses. He says that different variants cause different symptoms, and gastrointestinal illness has been associated with COVID, especially among the younger population, but there has been an increase in these cases.

Due to that, specialists say it is extremely important to watch this trend, mainly because of the BA.2. variant is displacing Omicron as the dominant variant in Canada. At the same, physicians emphasize that the causes of gastrointestinal illness, such as rotavirus, enterovirus and others, are also circulating among people.

Vancouver Coastal Health has reported an increase in norovirus cases, which are associated with the consumption of raw oysters, not COVID. Regarding this virus, Nisha Thampi, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, reinforced that the norovirus has made a comeback after a fall in the number of cases during the pandemic’s worst moments. According to her, this may be related to relaxation in public health measures. The physician also points out that patchy testing for both SARS-CoV-2 and gastrointestinal pathogens is not helpful when it comes to understanding which one is behind the reports.

Another problem, according to Dr. Gerald Evans of Ontario’s COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, is that the BA.2. variant has not been tested enough to know if it is causing gastrointestinal illness. He explains people are being tested by sampling from their respiratory tract, which may be why physicians are not detecting the variant. Therefore, he suggests stool testing for COVID, as well as looking for other viruses.


Stomach bug or COVID? | CMAJ

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