Acute Covid infection disrupts a healthy balance between good and bad microbes in the gut, especially with antibiotic treatment, researchers have found.


Reporting in the scientific journal Molecular Biomedicine, researchers described the first results of an ongoing study examining the microbiome of patients and volunteers at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in New Brunswick.

The study by Rutgers scientists, which began in May 2020, the early days of the pandemic, was designed to focus on the microbiome because many COVID-19 sufferers complained of gastrointestinal issues, both during the acute phases of their illness and while recuperating.

“We wanted to gain a deeper understanding by looking at specimens that would give us an indication about the state of the gut microbiome in people,” said Martin Blaser, the Henry Rutgers Chair of the Human Microbiome at Rutgers University, director of the Center for Advanced Biotechnology and Medicine (CABM) at Rutgers and an author on the study.

“What we found was that, while there were differences between people who had COVID-19 and those who were not ill, the biggest difference from others was seen in those who had been administered antibiotics.”

Early in the pandemic, before the introduction of vaccines and other antiviral remedies, it was a common practice to treat COVID-19 patients with a round of antibiotics to attempt to target possible secondary infections, said Blaser, who also is a professor of medicine and pathology and laboratory medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

The scientists studied microbiomes by measuring populations of microorganisms in stool samples taken from 60 subjects. The study group consisted of 20 COVID-19 patients, 20 healthy donors and 20 COVID-19-recovered subjects. They found major differences in the population numbers of 55 different species of bacteria when comparing the microbiomes of infected patients with the healthy and recovered patients.

The Rutgers scientists plan to continue to test and track the microbiomes of patients in the study to ascertain the long-term effect on individual microbiomes from COVID-19.

“Further investigation of patients will enhance understanding of the role of the gut microbiome in COVID-19 disease progression and recovery,” Blaser said.

“These findings may help identify microbial targets and probiotic supplements for improving COVID-19 treatment.”

Other Rutgers scientists on the study included Yue Sandra Yin, the study’s first author and a research teaching specialist at CABM; Veenat Parmar, program administrator of the Rutgers Microbiome Program; Vinod Rustgi, Distinguished Professor of Medicine, clinical director of hepatology and director of the Center for Liver Diseases and Liver Masses at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School; as well as Carlos Minacapelli, Carolyn Catalano, Abhishek Bhurwal and Kapil Gupta, all of the Division of Gastroenterology and Hepatology and the Center for Liver Diseases and Masses at the Robert Wood Johnson School of Medicine.

The study was supported by Danone and by the National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases).