Researchers from Johns Hopkins University found the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 which causes Covid-19 hiding in an unexpected place – inside and behind the human ear.
A team of otolaryngologists and pathologists discovered that the coronavirus can comfortably settle in the middle ear and the mastoid region of the head behind the ear, which contains several hollow spaces believed to cushion it against trauma and protect the middle and inner ear.
Doctors autopsied three patients who had tested positively for coronavirus and were symptomatic for Covid-19 prior to their death.
They noted that there may be many other factors and comorbidities that affect the colonization of the mastoid and middle ear with coronavirus and these may differ in the living host. “There may be significant differences between dying from COVID-19 vs dying with COVID-19,” they said.
The new discovery means that otolaryngologists, who might have previously been more relaxed when examining their patients, are at direct risk of catching the virus.
The study by the JH hospital research autopsy program lasted for six months and was published on July 23.
Despite admitting the limitations of their study, the researchers nevertheless advised that medical personnel take extra protection measures – like wearing masks or powered air-purifying respirators – when performing ear exams and ear surgery.
The JH researchers also urged their colleagues not to relax social distancing rules in the waiting rooms of clinics. Making sure the rooms are less crowded mitigates the risk of spread, they said.
Updated guidelines for otologic and neurotologic procedures will soon be published in the United States.
Cases of Covid-19 have started growing again, with many countries imposing new restrictions, while scientists around the world scramble for a vaccine.
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