COVID-19 is infamous for seriously affecting our lungs and overall respiratory capacities. Turns out, the microbes in our throat could be key to fighting coronavirus. But, can we change our throat microbiome to change our risk of infection? Time will tell. 

By Sofia Popov

We recently covered how the gut microbiome can predict the severity of COVID-19. Now, it’s time for the throat.  Dutch researchers have revealed a potential link between the microbes in a person’s throat (their throat microbiome) and infection by coronavirus. This can have important applications in the global fight against COVID-19. 

Throat bacteria could be key to fighting coronavirus

One of the most striking characteristics of COVID-19 is the high variability in how it affects people, with the risk for severe illness increasing with age.

Indeed, it is well known that our gut microbiome is linked to our immune system. Other evidence has also shown that our throat microbiome affects our susceptibility to viral diseases. In this study, researchers were able to show that our throat microbiome also plays a potential role in COVID-19.

The Study

  • Samples taken from 135 patients. Throat swabs were used, just as for coronavirus tests.
  • Team then profiled the microbiomes of both COVID-19 positive and negative patients.
  • They found significantly lower levels of COVID-19 infection among patients with a specific microbial profile – which contained a key cluster of bacteria. Meanwhile, those without this cluster were twice as likely to test positive for COVID-19.
  • Strikingly, this bacterial cluster is more common in the young, and rarer in older patients. Thus, this help explain the greater susceptibility of the elderly to COVID-19.

Understanding the Risk of Catching Coronavirus

Ultimately, this research could help scientists identify the role bacteria play in the immune defence against the virus. In practical terms, this could even result in a tool to  identify those who are at higher risk of contracting the virus or developing severe symptoms. It could even help us understand whether modifying the microbes in our throat could help us reduce risk of infection. 

“This is the first indication of why there is a link between age and severity of COVID-19. More research is needed but this could provide a critical tool to understand people’s risk of catching coronavirus, and maybe even a tool to prevent catching it at all.”

Of course, further validation is necessary, and the paper still needs to be peer reviewed. Still, these findings do present an interesting idea of what role bacteria plays in our immune response to the virus. 

As Dr Dries Budding, who led the study, says, “This is the first indication of why there is a link between age and severity of COVID-19. More research is needed but this could provide a critical tool to understand people’s risk of catching coronavirus, and maybe even a tool to prevent catching it at all.”


Reference:

  1. Budding, A., et al., An Age Dependent Pharyngeal Microbiota Signature Associated with SARS-CoV-2 Infection (4/21/2020). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3582780