The novel coronavirus may be able to block pain and mask the illness in its early stages as it spreads throughout the body, a new study suggests.
In research conducted in mice, scientists found that the spike protein the virus uses to enter cells attaches to a receptor and completely reverses the pain signaling pathway of neurons.
What's more, pain relief could occur within 30 minutes of being infected and lasts for several hours, if not days.
The team, from the University of Arizona Health Sciences, says the findings may explain why nearly half of all patients with COVID-19 experience no symptoms.
Researchers discovered the spike protein on the outside of the coronavirus binds to a receptor called neuropilin-1 but, instead of causing pain, it blocks the pain pathway
A new study, from the University of Arizona Health Sciences , found when the spike protein bound to the receptor neuropilin in mice, pain was blocked within 30 minutes. Pictured: A paramedic moves an elderly patient from the Olympia Convalescent Hospital into an ambulance in Los Angeles, July 19
Corresponding author Dr Rajesh Khanna, a professor in the department of pharmacology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine says the study may also explain how the disease spreads so rapidly.
'It made a lot of sense to me that perhaps the reason for the unrelenting spread of COVID-19 is that in the early stages, you're walking around all fine as if nothing is wrong because your pain has been suppressed,' he said in a statement.
'You have the virus, but you don't feel bad because your pain is gone. If we can prove that this pain relief is what is causing COVID-19 to spread further, that's of enormous value.'
When humans experience something that causes pain, a protein called vascular endothelial growth factor-A (VEGF-A), binds to