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September 25, 2022

New diagnostic tool helps identify more serious COVID-19 cases

MURRAY — Researchers at Intermountain Healthcare have come up with a new diagnostic score to help identify COVID-19 patients who may end up with the worst cases of the virus.

The new criteria should enable doctors to tailor treatments for specific patients, and save lives.

Doctors have recently learned about an acute inflammatory syndrome that occurs in some COVID-19 patients. That inflammation can damage the lungs and other organs, and send the patient to the ICU.

They now have a set of standardized criteria to identify that syndrome, before the illness worsens.

Intermountain Healthcare researchers have developed an important new diagnostic tool to help clinicians diagnose hyperinflammatory syndrome.

Dr. Brandon Webb, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain, was the principal investigator of the study.

“Right from the very earliest days of the pandemic, we recognized that some patients with COVID-19 develop an inappropriate and excessive inflammatory immune response,” he said.

That inflammation increases a patient’s risk of needing ventilator support and potentially dying.

Doctors did not have standardized criteria to identify this syndrome, so a team of specialists at Intermountain Healthcare, from various backgrounds, reviewed all of the knowledge that had been gathered on the syndrome, so far.

“We developed a set diagnostic criteria, or a score if you will, which we have called the COVID-19 associated hyperinflammatory syndrome, or cHIS score,” said Webb.

They applied the criteria to 299 patients admitted to the hospital with severe COVID-19. They found that patients who had two or more of the diagnostic criteria tended to have more severe disease and were at four times greater risk of needing a ventilator.

“We can actually assess the patient’s risk for having this dangerous hyperinflammatory syndrome right as they’re being admitted to the hospital,” said Webb.

The sooner doctors can identify that inflammatory syndrome, the sooner they are able to treat the condition before patients deteriorate.

“The score itself won’t necessarily save lives,” said the researcher. “But, what it does do is it will help us to target the right treatment to the right patient early.”

It will also lead to drug trials with a more specific target.

“Now, it’s time to spend more of our attention on more precise, personalized trials,” said Dr. Samuel Brown, a critical care physician at Intermountain and co-investigator on the study. “First, it will help us to design clinical trials targeting the patients for whom new drugs are most likely to work, and secondly, it allows us to now tailor our treatment strategy to give the right drugs to the right patients who are most likely to benefit.”

The new research finding is reported in Wednesday’s issue of the British medical journal, The Lancet Rheumatology.

While this diagnostic tool should help COVID-19 patients, both doctors emphasized that wearing masks and social distancing are still the most important steps we can all take to limit the spread of the virus.

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Jed Boal

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