MOST people who contract coronavirus won’t need any extra help – and will see their symptoms settle within a week.
However, for an estimated one in five people with the illness, hospital care will prove necessary and they may go on to develop a more severe lung condition.
In particular, a high temperature and a new, continuous cough are the two main symptoms of coronavirus that the NHS lists on its website.
However, doctors have now discovered three different, mild symptoms that patients who become more severely ill with Covid-19 tend to show.
And they believe that these signs, taken together, are strong predictors of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS).
According to the NHS, this is a life-threatening condition where the lungs can’t provide the body’s vital organs with enough oxygen.
Researchers at New York University (NYU) made the discovery by analysing records from 53 hospitalised patients in Wenzhou, China.
Most of the participants were in their 30s or 40s, and nearly two-thirds were men.
Megan Coffee, an infectious-disease clinician and lead author of the study, told Business Insider that they carried out the study to “assist doctors in that first stage to be able to identify who may become sick of the many mild cases.”
The three signs that they found in those with severe lung disease were…
1. An increase in a liver enzyme
The first factor was a slight increase in an enzyme known as alanine aminotransferase (ALT).
ALT is normally found inside liver cells, however, when your liver is damaged or inflamed, ALT can be released into your bloodstream.
High levels of ALT in a person’s blood can signal the presence of liver damage or inflammation.
2. Deep muscle aches
The second factor was deep muscle aches, known clinically as myalgia.
Myalgia can involve ligaments, tendons and fascia, the soft tissues that connect muscles, bones and organs.
According to the World Health Organization, about 15 per cent of all coronavirus patients experienced body aches or joint pain.
The aches are triggered by chemicals called cytokines – which the body releases while responding to the infection.
3. More haemoglobin
The third factor was higher levels of haemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen through the blood.
In patients severely ill with coronavirus, the red blood cell production increases to make up for chronically low blood oxygen levels due to poor lung function.
The researchers who carried out the study say that all three of these symptoms must be present for someone to have an early risk of severe lung disease.
On their own, the three mild symptoms don’t normally set off alarm bells for medics, they claimed.
The experts added that determining whether a patient is likely to get worse could help hospitals decide which cases to monitor.
“Hospitals are just so overstretched that if someone doesn’t immediately need oxygen they may not be able to find a place for them,” Coffee said. “But they might be able to say, ‘You really need to check back in tomorrow’.”
Doctors could then treat a patient before their case becomes critical, lessening the burden on the NHS.
The NHS is facing an increasing amount of pressure with a lack of ventilators, personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits.
Anasse Bari, a clinical assistant professor at NYU who co-authored the study, added: “We’re not by any means trying to replace doctors’ decisions.
“We just want to arm doctors with tools to see quickly if this is a severe case and predict outcomes.”