Digestive issues like diarrhea could be the first sign of the coronavirus for many patients, a new study says.
Nearly half of the virus patients admitted to the hospital in the central Chinese province of Hubei, where the outbreak occurred, complained of digestive issues, according to a study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology Wednesday.
Researchers found that almost half — 48.5% — of the 204 patients in the study said their “chief complaint” was digestive issues, such as diarrhea, vomiting and abdominal pain.
Some of these cases — 7% — even reported no respiratory problems, which has been one of the most common symptoms associated with the contagious bug, researchers said.
The patients also waited on average two days longer to seek treatment from the onset of the virus than those without digestive symptoms, the report said.
Researchers said the new findings have important implications for doctors in detecting the virus.
With earlier diagnosis, physicians can move faster to quarantine these patients, helping to slow the spread of the pandemic.
“Clinicians should recognize that digestive symptoms, such as diarrhea, may be a presenting feature of COVID-19,” researchers concluded, adding that doctors shouldn’t be “waiting for respiratory symptoms to emerge.”
The study comes as the virus has rapidly spread to more than 218,000 people across the world since December’s outbreak in Wuhan.