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COVID virus persists in ear for a month post infection: Study

IANS Mar 04, 2024

SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19 disease, can act as a silent reservoir and be present in the middle ear for a month post-infection, according to a new study.

The study, published in the American Journal of Otolaryngology, found a potential association between the COVID virus and patients developing Otitis Media with Effusion (OME) in patients who suffered a bout of Omicron.

OME is a collection of fluid in the middle ear that may be thick or sticky. Cold, sore throat or upper respiratory infection makes the fluid accumulate in the eardrum and can also cause temporary hearing impairment. It is most common among children between the age group of 3 to 7 years.

“Our study highlights the potential effects of COVID-19 on the middle ear, suggesting a link between SARS-CoV-2 and OME onset,” said Chengzhou Han, from Wuxi Huishan District People's Hospital in China, in the paper.

“The virus, a significant contributor to OME, is detectable in the middle ear nearly a month post-Omicron infection, indicating a potential alteration in OME treatment strategies and a risk of recurrence, emphasising the necessity for otolaryngologist vigilance,” Han added.

The study, conducted from January to June 2023, included 23 patients (32-84 years) who presented OME post-Omicron infection, with 21 exhibiting unilateral symptoms.

The median duration from infection to sampling was 21 days. Fluid accumulation was observed in 88.0 per cent of ears. SARS-CoV-2 was detected in 12 per cent of samples, with cycle threshold values ranging between 25.65 and 33.30.

“Our research unveils compelling evidence pointing to the potential otological manifestation of OME in the aftermath of a COVID-19 infection. These findings underscore a conceivable link between SARS-CoV-2 infection and the emergence of OME, emphasising the diverse implications of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” the researchers said.

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