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UNC study shows mouth as 'primary source' of COVID-19 spread, infection

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Posted at 9:14 PM, Nov 04, 2020

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - Researchers at the University of North Carolina are revealing how our mouths are a primary source of infection and spread of the virus.

“It really is a first-of-its-kind study,” Dr. Kevin Byrd, Research Instructor at the UNC Adams School of Dentistry, told News 3.

In 2020, Byrd has been studying COVID-19, a disease that's impacted him personally.

“I lost two [family members] in the summer to this disease,” Byrd said.

He and others at UNC and the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research are behind a study showing the mouth is a “robust site for infection and transmission of COVID-19.”

“One of the things that we were hearing was reports that people were having symptoms in their mouth. Unusual symptoms. Loss of taste, sometimes loss of smell or dry mouth,” Byrd said. “What we decided to do was go look at the glands that makes spit, or saliva, and look at the taste buds where we really have our main sense of taste and to see if those sights were being infected by the virus.”

Byrd said a key thing they found is that the oral cavity can be broadly infected.

“Tongue, tonsils, glands - we found that the virus sits in the saliva actually correlates the more that you have, the more it correlates with the loss of taste and smell,” he said. “What we found is there were some individuals that might be their only symptom or minimal symptom, and that could be indicative that you are actually infected by SARS-CoV-2. There were a number of individuals that either had asymptomatic virus. Their asymptomatic, so they had virus in their nose or they were asymptomatic, and they had virus in their saliva. And they're walking around, and they could infect others.”

News 3 Medical Expert Dr. Ryan Light said the study is a reminder of how wearing masks and social distancing can help you and others.

Related: Vanderbilt study reveals how easily COVID-19 spreads inside a home

“Wearing that facial covering and wearing it appropriately to cover the nose and the mouth would decrease those droplet particles from being transmitted to other people, which would decrease that asymptomatic spread when you don't know you have it,” Light said.

As for Byrd, he believes this study could help answer questions in the fight against COVID-19.

“It gives us an idea of now how we can follow up to maybe even figure out why people are losing taste? Why do they have dry mouth?” Byrd said.

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