It’s well known that coronavirus can travel deep in the body, infecting the nose, throat and lungs.
Bur new research has found that the virus can also infect the ear and the mastoid bone of the skull which is just behind the ear.
In a small study of three patients, two had high viral loads not only in their middle ears but behind the ear as well.
The team, from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, says the findings suggest that clinicians look in the ears for people who present with coronavirus symptoms, and that surgeons swab the ears before performing otology procedures.
For the study, published in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, the team looked at three patients who died of COVID-19.
One of patients was a man in his 60s, the second a woman in her 60s and the third was a woman in her 80s.
Specimens were taken using swabs and stored in a solution called viral transport media before being tested.
Two of the three patients tested positive for the virus, known as SARS-CoV-2, in the mastoid or middle ear.
The woman in her 80s had the virus only in the right middle ear. The man in his 60s had the virus in his left and right mastoids and in his left and right middle ears.
This is not the first time that coronavirus has been linked to ear infections or ear issues.
An April 2020 study found COVID-19 induced in adults acute otitis media, a type of ear infection in which the area behind the eardrum becomes inflamed and infected.
Another study on 20 symptomless patients, with no history of hearing problems found that hearing abilities worsened after the infection had passed
The team of the new study recommends that people be screened for COVID-19 in the ear before undergoing middle ear procedures.
‘Identification of live virus from middle ear effusions would have implications for surgeons and staff who handle equipment such as instruments, suction tubing, and suction canisters due to current CDC biosafety recommendations,’ the authors wrote.
‘Finally, mastoid and middle ear colonization with SARS-CoV-2 does not necessarily imply current or future otologic symptomatology.’
In the US, there are more than 3.9 million confirmed cases of the virus and more than 142,000 deaths.