Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Spitting Distance

SARS-CoV-2 in the salivary glands and saliva of COVID-19 sufferers

12 May 2021

Spitting Distance

It’s been known for some time that SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, infects cells in the nose and lungs. It does this by attaching to ‘gateway’ molecules on cells, known as ACE2 and TMPRSS2, which enable the virus to get in. Researchers have now found a new way that the virus can get into the body through infecting certain cells in the salivary glands in the mouth that also carry these viral ‘gateways’. This image shows cells in the salivary gland (green and blue) of someone who died with COVID-19, with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles highlighted in pink. The discovery that SARS-CoV-2 can infect cells in the mouth points towards a potentially larger role for saliva in spreading COVID-19, either within the body or to other people. It also helps to explain some of the symptoms experienced by people with COVID-19, such as loss of taste and mouth ulcers.

Written by Kat Arney

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