In earlier part of this study, we advised six hourly NSNSG to assess tolerability as well as to assess outcome in repeat RT-PCR test done after 72 hours and 96 hours. Tolerability with NSNSG was found acceptable but relative outcome in RT-PCR was not satisfactory. Six hourly NSNSG appeared insufficient to combat continuous shedding of SARS-CoV-2 from nasal epithelial cells. So we increased frequency to three hourly and found substantial clearance of virions in repeat RT-PCR done after 120 hours. It has been found, in an in vitro study4 of influenza virus, that progeny virions following replication, are continuously released from cells over a relatively longer period instead of burst-like disposal. These progeny virions following replication exploit the secretory pathway to be released out of the cells.5 This might be the basis of predilection of SARS-CoV-2 to infect type II alveolar epithelial cell which has got adequate secretory apparatus, like goblet cell in nasal epithelium,6 unlike type I alveolar epithelial cell. Hence continuous shedding of progeny might be expected from SARS-CoV-2. So, frequent NSNSG is necessary to wash off continuous shedding of virions to protect lung from pneumonia due to microaspiration of VMS.
Hematogenous spread of SARS-CoV-2 to lung is unlikely; as demonstrated by absence of infection of micro vascular endothelial cells.1 Microaspiration from pharyngeal mucus is a well known “oral-lung aspiration axis” for many lower airways diseases.1,7,8 Macroscopically, in lung autopsy, COVID-19 infection appears patchy, segmental, and peripheral. These features are consistent with microaspirations.1
Anatomical barriers, immune mechanisms, mucociliary conveyor and cough might protect lung from microaspiration. Possibly those factors inhibited severity score from escalating in 63% patients in control group. Similarly, three patients (13%) in control group showed no sign of microaspiration in initial HRCT as well as in HRCT done on sixth day following admission (Table 2). It appears that some patients are physiologically protected from microaspiration. Nevertheless microaspiration from nasal cavity might gain access into lungs within 10 hours particularly during sleep, as shown in earlier study with technetium 99m-labeled macro-aggregated albumin.9 On the other hand, microaspiration is frequently observed in older, diabetic, and obese subjects who as well are at risk for severe COVID-19.1 Appreciating the behaviour of infection, replication, shedding and microaspiration of SARS-CoV-2, it might be considered as ‘surface virus’ to comprehend the events of SARS-CoV-2 and to restrain its activities. With similar consideration, Hou et al1 speculate that nasal lavage, topical antiviral, or immune modulation, might be beneficial to reduce viral titer in the nose.
Soluble protease TMPRSS2 cleaves and primes S protein to facilitate fusion and helps to deliver RNA from virion to epithelial cell (Fig 1). In this study we have not examined the effect of NSNSG on soluble TMPRSS2. Nevertheless, it appears that TMPRSS2 might either be washed off or efficacy of TMPRSS2 might be decreased by NSNSG.
Co-infection with bacteria increases severity and fatality in pneumonia during influenza outbreaks.10 In many situations, bacteria and virus mutually perform to increase pathogenicity.11 Some bacteria enhance viral shedding.12 It is found that 50% of COVID-19 patients who died had bacterial co-infections in pneumonia.13 Understandably, NSNSG might wash off bacteria along with SARS-CoV-2 from nasal and pharyngeal mucosa and might decrease chance of co-infection.
Our study has got limitations. We could not study the efficacy of NSNSG on prevention of microaspiration in lung with HRCT lung in matched groups. So, we had to evaluate HRCT lung done at various intervals following admission. Secondly, patients were trained with audio-visual and physical demonstrations for NSNSG in a short period. This rapid learning appeared to be tricky in some patients. Three patients enrolled in study group failed to follow instructions correctly. They were excluded from study on 2nd day. Two patients in study group showed six and eight points increase in SS in HRCT done on sixth and seventh day (Table 2) respectively; possibly due to inadequate NSNSG following inadequate training.
We increased frequency and duration of NSNSG in phases, as we could not anticipate patients’ compliance beforehand. Afterwards, three hourly NSNSG for 120 hours was found to be more effective to wash off SARS-CoV-2. We empirically used the volume of normal saline and frequency of NSNSG.
It appears that NSNSG would prevent pneumonia in COVID-19 if this procedure is applied once suspicion of contract or onset of symptoms is appreciated. Similarly, outcome would be better with proper training of patients by dedicated health workers.