New Research Explores The Entry of COVID-19 In The Nose

New COVID-19 research shows possibilities to prevent the virus from onsetting after being exposed to the virus. Stanford Medicine is behind the latest discoveries.

A study published in the print edition of Cell on January 5, explores the path of SARS-CoV-2 within nasal passages. These findings have the potential to prevent COVID-19 infection.

Almost three years after COVID-19 appeared in the United States, the virus is continuing to have its impact. The new XBB.1.5 variant is growing across the country, and U.S. government officials are still learning the ins and outs of the new variant.

COVID-19 morning-after possibilities

Peter Jackson, PhD., is a Stanford Medicine professor of pathology and microbiology, and immunology. Jackson was the co-senior author of the study along with Raul Andino, Ph.D., professor of microbiology and immunology at UC San Francisco.

Jackson and Andino’s team surveyed cilia and microvilli found on the multiciliated epithelial cells to see how they might affect the entry and exit of SARS-Cov-2. Cilia is topped by a layer of a protein referred to as mucin, similar to the main protein in mucus.

According to Jackson, mucin molecules can prevent viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 by reaching upper-airway cells. Mucin molecules can link with each other, creating a protective mucus coat that keeps viral particles, bacteria, environmental debris, and cell-breakdown junk under wraps — keeping underlying cells moist.

However, Jackson says once the virus passes through the protective mucus coat it can replicate freely in underlying cells.

During their investigation, researchers noticed only ciliated cells became infected. Speaking to Stanford Medicine, Jackson says the study proves the entry points of SARS-CoV-2 and highlights the need for treatment to halt infection from occurring.

In the study, Jackson concludes eliminating mucin from the protective mesh prevents the mesh’s ability to block SARS-CoV-2.

“It’s clear that human ciliated nasal epithelial cells are the primary entry site for SARS-CoV-2 in nasal epithelial tissue,” Jackson said. “Delaying viral entry, exit or spread with a locally applied, the short-duration drug would help our immune systems catch up and arrive in time to stop the full-blown infection and hopefully limit future pandemics.”

Jackson and his fellow researchers believe the results found hold for the respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza virus, and the BA.1 omicron strain. The research does not mention its effectiveness against the new XBB.1.5 variant.

SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, discovered in Wuhan, China in 2019. The virus can spread person-to-person through respiratory droplets and small particles when an infected individual engages in conversation, sneezing, or coughing.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says adults over the age of 65 are at risk for serious illness. The CDC recommends all Americans get their most updated COVID-19 vaccine. Recently, a Healthnews article discovered COVID-19 vaccine boosters helped reduce hospitalizations in older adults.

In the U.S., there have been over 101 million cases of COVID-19 and over one million deaths from the virus.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomitting
  • Diarrhea

XBB.1.5 variant cases rise

The CDC highlights the XBB.1.5 variant is moving at a fast pace, and currently makes up 28% of COVID cases in the U.S. Before the Holiday season, the occurrence of the XBB.1.5 variant among COVID cases was just 4%. ​ White House Covid-19 response coordinator, Dr. Ashish Jha, addressed the new variant in a Twitter thread on January 4.

Andrew Stanley Pekosz, Ph.D., is a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In a talk published last week, Pekosz says the XBB.1.5 variant is not moving quite as fast as the omicron variant last winter. The remedies available for medical professionals to fight COVID-19 are far superior to winter's past. Despite this, the virus is transmissible.

Pekosz encourages those at high risk to seek the bivalent booster immediately to protect against the XBB.1.5 variant. The among of Americans who have received the bivalent booster is underwhelming.

“XBB.1.5 is derived from the omicron variant BA.2, and while the current bivalent vaccine was developed for the BA.5 variant, it has been shown to generate antibodies that recognize BA.2,” Pekosz said.

In December, the Biden Administration announced free COVID-19 take-home tests available at COVID.gov. Each U.S. household can order four tests to help protect against the spread of the XBB. 1.5 variant.

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