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Health Team

Keeping yourself healthy against coronavirus? The answer may be in your gut

Posted October 26, 2020 5:01 p.m. EDT
Updated October 26, 2020 7:25 p.m. EDT

— While companies across the country race to develop a coronavirus vaccine, some researchers at Duke University Medical Center are taking a slightly different approach.

They want to see if there are ways to keep you healthy if someone near you tests positive for the virus.

The answer may be in your gut.

"We had done research showing that the bacteria that make up your gut, that live in your gut and that live in your body actually affect the way your immune system responds to infection," said Dr. Paul Wischmeyer, an anesthesiologist and critical care specialist at Duke University Hospital.

Wischmeyer added that the research showed the bacteria can help your body fight infections.

"They can help your body recover from infection, reducing the inflammation the lung and other organs can see," he explained.

Wischmeyer said additional research showed that when probiotics, or healthy bacteria, were given to a large group of healthy people, they could help reduce the risk of respiratory infections by as much as 50%.

People participating in the study often took over-the-counter probiotics.

"There was quite a few studies that show you can reduce your chance of both respiratory tract infections, really severe infections that lead to hospitalizations and even death in some of these studies, by just taking a simple probiotic," said Wischmeyer.

Duke researchers are currently studying lactobacillus, a bacteria in the lactic acid bacteria group.

Anthony Sung, a cell therapy and hematologic malignancies specialist at Duke University Hospital, said the trial is still in its early stages.

"We are actively recruiting subjects," he added. "If you or anyone you know is currently living with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, we would welcome the opportunity to try and help protect you from this infection."

Researchers are searching for people who have been living with someone diagnosed with coronavirus in the past three days. Participants would take a probiotic for 28 days to see if it changes the microbiome, or bacteria in the gut and nose. The study will be conducted remotely and all supplies needed will be shipped to participants.

"As part of our study into the research, into the impact of probiotics on the bacteria in the gut, we would like to collect stool samples and also swab the nose. These are things that you can collect at home, and we provide kits that you mail the samples right back to us," explained Sung.

Sung added that participants would also be provided compensation for their time.

While most research has been focused on a vaccine for coronavirus, Wishmeyer said this research was important because it was something that could be done right now to help stop the spread of coronavirus.

"It works with your body naturally to improve your immunity and improve your recovery from a really devastating pandemic infection," he said.

Those interested in participating in the trial can email protect-EHC@duke.edu or click here.

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