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U Of U Researchers Studying Role Of Mucus In COVID-19 Spread

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Every time a person infected with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes, they spray out potentially lethal droplets of the virus.

Our mucus carries the virus in that cough. As the virus continues to spread globally, University of Utah biomedical engineers are working to identify the role mucus plays in spreading COVID-19 from person to person.

“Mucus is absolutely essential for life, from jellyfish to humans,“ said Dr. Jessica R. Kramer, who has been studying mucus in her lab at the university for years.

Now, the University of Utah biomedical engineering assistant professor and her eight-person team is focused on the relationship between mucus and the spread of COVID-19, which binds directly to mucus.

“What we want to understand in this project is how different forms of mucus relate to coronavirus transmission and infection,” said Kramer.

Mucus hydrates and lubricates our bodies and acts as a natural defense against bacteria and viruses, she said. When bacterias, viruses or allergies irritate our tissues, our bodies produce extra mucus to flush those irritants away.

“Every time an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spray out mucus droplets,” said Kramer.

We each produce different forms of mucus. Kramer’s research team will test different forms to find out how well the virus lives in each of those forms.

“That information can tell us who needs to quarantine for longer,” she said. “It could tell us who is more susceptible to infection. Eventually, we hope to make drugs that will block the virus from binding to mucus in the first place.”

About 80% of new COVID-19 infections were attributed to 20% of the people, she said. “Not everybody spreads the virus equally,” Kramer said.

She added they don’t understand why, and it’s not just poor hygiene.

“We think that these forms of mucus may better carry the virus through the air, or allow the virus to survive when it lands on a hard surface,” Kramer said.

If researchers can identify the forms of mucus that bind to the virus, that could lead to drugs that block the bond.

“My researchers and I are really happy we can contribute to this problem, and, mucus is just at the center of the whole virus transmission,” Kramer said.

Right now, her team is quarantined for two weeks and everything in the lab is being thoroughly disinfected in preparation for their work.

“I feel very optimistic,” Kramer said. “My lab and many other labs are attacking this problem from every possible angle.”

Kramer received a National Science Foundation grant for $200,000 for the research that is intended to produce data within one year. She hopes to have initial results in the next few months.


Coronavirus Resources

See the latest information from the Utah Coronavirus Task Force here.

How Do I Prevent It?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC does not recommend wearing a face mask respirator to protect yourself from coronavirus unless a healthcare professional recommends it.

How To Get Help

If you’re worried you may have COVID-19, you can contact the Utah Coronavirus Information Line at 1-800-456-7707 to speak to trained healthcare professionals. You can also use telehealth services through your healthcare providers.

Additional Resources

If you see evidence of PRICE GOUGING, the Utah Attorney General’s Office wants you to report it. Common items in question include toilet paper, water, hand sanitizer, certain household cleaners, and even cold medicine and baby formula. Authorities are asking anyone who sees price gouging to report it to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or 800-721-7233. The division can also be reached by email at consumerprotection@utah.gov.

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