Scientists believe they have discovered a blood test that could predict how if a person will have mild or severe symptoms of COVID. 

George Washington University researchers have reportedly developed a blood test that can quickly detect if someone has the coronavirus while also predicting how severely that person’s immune system will react to the infection. The innovation could help doctors determine the best course of treatment for people with COVID-19. 

In a study published in the Public Library of Science, researchers sequenced whole blood RNA with COVID-19 patients admitted to the George Washington University Hospital Intensive Care Unit. Patients’ symptoms ranged from asymptomatic to severe, and after collecting blood samples, researchers noticed visible changes in the cells of people with COVID-19.  

That insight led them to realize that COVID-19 severity was associated with an increase in neutrophil activity and a decrease in T-cell activity. Both Neutrophils and T-cells are a type of white blood cell that are the front line of defense in the way your body’s immune system fights off infections. 

The body’s immune response is as measured by the activity of these cells. Their presence and to what degree signals that there’s an infection, which could have been caused by a known, novel, or variant pathogen.  

“This test could prove very valuable during the pandemic, especially as variants continue to spread and doctors need to be confident in identifying the problem and providing effective treatment,” said Timothy McCaffrey, professor of medicine at George Washington and lead researcher on the project, in a statement.  

“When we sequence whole blood RNA, we’re given a fuller, more dynamic picture of what’s happening inside the body, and our test helps identify those who need the more aggressive treatments.” 

McCaffrey and others previously identified RNA biomarkers for other types of infections, such as appendicitis and pneumonia, and that’s when they noted an increase in neutrophil-related RNAs when measuring RNA levels in patients’ blood. 

As the pandemic hit, McCaffrey pivoted course and began applying the same concept to COVID-19 using the approach of identifying RNA biomarkers for COVID-19 infection detection and severity. 

“Beyond the current pandemic, our technique would be able to detect any infection with a high degree of accuracy,” said McCaffrey. “That has applications for all sorts of conditions wherein doctors diagnosing patients need to quickly rule in or rule out whether they are dealing with an infection or something else.” 

This discovery comes on the heels of another blood test that was recently developed, which could detect which COVID patients are most likely to develop “long-haul” symptoms. In that study, which was published in the journal Nature Communications, researchers found that people who go on to develop long COVID have lower levels of certain antibodies in their blood soon after they are infected with the coronavirus. This means a blood test for those antibodies could serve as a predictor of who may become a COVID long-hauler.

Additional studies are needed to prove that both of these tests are repeatable and effective and if that happens, researchers plan to seek an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration to put them into practice.

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