Routine blood test may predict COVID-19 hospital death risk: study

EMTs rush a patient into the emergency room at Massachusetts General Hospital in April. MGH researchers say a simple blood test could give doctors an early warning signal of who is at higher risk of dying from the coronavirus. Photo: Stan Grossfeld/ Boston Globe

(Martin Finucane/ Boston Globe) — Massachusetts General Hospital researchers say they’ve found that a routine test of blood cells may provide a a key clue to whether patients admitted to the hospital with the coronavirus face a higher risk of dying.

A standard test that quantifies the variation in the size of red blood cells, called red cell distribution width (RDW), was correlated with patient mortality, researchers said in a statement from the hospital. The results from the MGH Center for Systems Biology were published Wednesday in JAMA Network Open.

“We wanted to help find ways to identify high-risk COVID patients as early and as easily as possible — who is likely to become severely ill and may benefit from aggressive interventions, and which hospitalized patients are likely to get worse most quickly,” Dr. John M. Higgins, senior author of the study and an investigator in the MGH pathology department, said in the statement.

The study concluded that “RDW measured at admission and during hospitalization was associated with a statistically significant increase in mortality. RDW is a routine laboratory test that may be useful in risk stratification of hospitalized patients with COVID-19.” (…)

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