This One Thing Could Determine If Your COVID Case Is Severe or Not

A simple blood test could save your life and transform COVID hospital units.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, has a reputation for being unpredictable. Patients may begin their infection with a relatively mild set of symptoms, only to find them rapidly escalating into dangerous new territories in the days or weeks that follow. Now, scientists are racing to study innovative ways to identify those patients who might suffer the worst COVID cases before their symptoms become severe. One such study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis has found that there is indeed a simple way to predict which hospitalized patients are at risk of serious complications or death. Using a rapid blood test that measures mitochondrial DNA, the researchers were able to spot patients who would later face the most serious COVID cases in a group of 100 hospitalized patients. Read on for more on their game changing test, and for more signs you should know, check out If You Have These 4 Symptoms, You Might Have the New COVID Strain.

"One of the most vexing aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic is doctors' inability to predict which newly hospitalized patients will go on to develop severe disease, including complications that require the insertion of a breathing tube, kidney dialysis or other intensive care," the study explains. While knowledge of medical history, age, and other risk factors can help predict outcomes in a general sense, there have been many instances in which seemingly "low-risk" patients have suffered severe infections or death.

The answer could be linked to mitochondrial DNA, the researchers suggest. On average, the team found that mitochondrial DNA levels were increased tenfold in patients with COVID-19 who developed severe lung dysfunction or later died. Those with increased levels were "almost six times more likely to be intubated, three times more likely to be admitted to the ICU and almost twice as likely to die compared with those with lower levels," the study reads. "Mitochondrial DNA spilling out of cells and into the bloodstream is a sign that a particular type of violent cell death is taking place in the body," the researchers further explain.

"There's so much we still don't understand about this disease," said co-senior author of the study, Andrew E. Gelman, PhD, a professor of immunology in the Department of Surgery. "Our study suggests that tissue damage may be one cause of this spiral, since the mitochondrial DNA that is released is itself an inflammatory molecule."

While the preliminary results are promising, more research with a larger sample size is needed to confirm the team's findings. With any luck, this test may someday streamline COVID triage methods in hospitals, saving countless lives.

Wondering if you're at risk for serious COVID complications? Read on for some surprising symptoms and signs that may predict a severe COVID case in your future, and for more COVID news, check out If You're Over 65, You Shouldn't Get This New Vaccine, Experts Warn.

You have sleep apnea.

Woman sleep apnea machine

There are many co-morbidities that can put you at an increased risk for severe COVID. But beyond the ones that have grabbed national attention, such as diabetes, cancer, or obesity, one has flown largely under the radar. A Jan. 12, 2021 study published in BMJ Open Respiratory Research reveals that patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), a condition that affects nearly 25 million Americans, are at increased risk for COVID complications. Using data from 445 COVID patients, the researchers found that while just over 8 percent of subjects suffered from OSA, a disproportionate 21 percent of patients with severe COVID were determined to have the condition. And for more on factors you didn't know were linked to serious cases of the virus, check out The CDC Just Confirmed This Disorder Could Put You at Risk of Severe COVID.

You're a smoker.

Man putting out a cigarette after smoking

In a study published in a Jan. 25 review in the JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers determined that knowing whether or not you smoke can help predict your likelihood of severe COVID. The team studied 7,102 COVID positive patients within the Cleveland Clinic Health system in Ohio and Florida, and found that patients who had smoked an average of one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 or more years were 2.25 times more likely to be hospitalized than those who had never smoked. And for advice on staying healthy, check out If You're Doing This to Your Mask, the CDC Says You Need a New One.

You have type A blood.

A female Asian doctor holds up a test vile of blood

Beyond pre-existing conditions and health habits, some researchers say that your blood type can also influence whether or not you'll develop a severe COVID case. Scientists from the GenOMICC Consortium, a research group which studies the connections between severe illnesses and genes, compared the genes of more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients with those of healthy people, The Washington Post reports. They found that those with type A blood are more likely to become seriously ill when infected with SARS-CoV-2. And for the blood types that have the opposite connection, check out If You Have One of These Blood Types, You May Be Safe From COVID.

You have certain gene variants.

Doctor and senior man wearing facemasks during coronavirus and flu outbreak. Virus and illness protection, home quarantine. COVID-2019

Having certain gene variants can also play a role in whether your COVID case goes on to become severe. One recent U.K. study of 2,200 patients with severe COVID, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that one particular variant found in the chromosome 3 region was associated with a 30-percent increased risk of severe COVID-19. As the researchers explain in their findings, "a single copy of the disease-associated variant more than doubles an infected person's odds of developing severe COVID-19." And for some good COVID news, check out Dr. Fauci Finally Has Some "Very Encouraging" News About COVID.

Lauren Gray
Lauren Gray is a New York-based writer, editor, and consultant. Read more
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