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Red blood cell changes could help identify Covid patients with higher death risk, study finds

From how cholesterol-lowering drugs are linked to better outcomes in Covid patients to reduction in viral load, ThePrint brings you the latest on the novel coronavirus. 

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New Delhi: As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to claim lives across the globe, scientists are working on finding new insights into the virus to help manage Covid-19 illness.

Here are some of the most recent scientific findings around Covid-19.

Width of red blood cells linked to increased death risk 

A standard test that assesses changes in the red blood cells can identify which Covid-19 patients are at high risk of becoming critically-ill and dying, according to a new study.

Published in the JAMA Network Open, this study may help identify high-risk Covid-19 patients who are likely to become severely-ill and benefit from aggressive interventions.

The team of researchers have found that certain changes in the numbers and types of blood cells during inflammation are linked to poor health outcomes in patients with illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

A standard test which quantifies size variations of red blood cells — called red cell distribution width or RDW — can help predict which Covid-19 patients were at higher risk of deaths.

Patients who had RDW values above the normal range, when they were admitted to the hospital, had a 2.7 times higher risk of dying. They had a mortality rate of 31 per cent, compared to 11 per cent in patients with normal RDW values.

Increase in RDW after admission was linked to an even higher risk of dying, indicating that RDW could be tracked during hospitalisation to help determine whether patients are responding to treatment or getting worse.

Also read: Dengue antibodies could provide immunity against Covid, Brazil study suggests 

Molecular mechanisms that virus uses to infect cells decoded

Scientists have decoded the potential molecular mechanisms that drive interactions between lung cells and the SARS-CoV-2 virus. They have identified 33 such interactions that can be targeted by drugs to prevent infection.

The study looked at thousands of protein-protein interactions. The team of scientists have compiled a list of 394 host proteins that interact with the novel coronavirus. The host proteins were called SARS-CoV-2 interacting proteins (SIPs).

Looking at the type of interactive ‘networks’ created by these interactions, the researchers found the core pathways through which the SARS-CoV-2 virus attacks host cells.

They discovered 33 SARS-CoV-2 targets for possible drug therapy. These targets are possibly involved in viral entry, proliferation and survival, to establish infection and facilitate disease progression.

The research also revealed the molecular interactions that result in events like the cytokine storm — a cascade of toxic proteins that causes the immune system to attack healthy cells.

Cholesterol-lowering drugs linked to better outcomes 

A class of drugs known as statins — widely used in cholesterol-lowering medications — can reduce the risk of severe Covid-19 illness. These can also improve the time taken to recover, a new study has found.

According to the researchers, statins help by removing cholesterol from cell membranes which prevents the coronavirus from getting in.

Published in the American Journal of Cardiology, the study found that ACE2 receptors — which facilitate the entry of coronavirus into host cells — can be targeted by prescription statins and other medications used for cardiovascular disease.

The team analysed the electronic medical records of 170 patients with Covid-19 and 5,281 Covid-negative patients in the US. They collected data that included the patients’ disease severity, length of hospital stay, outcome, and use of medications within 30 days prior to hospital admission.

Among patients with Covid-19, 27 per cent were actively taking statins on admission.

While the average length of hospital stay was 9.7 days for patients with Covid-19, statin use before hospitalisation was linked to over 50 per cent reduction in risk of developing severe Covid-19, compared to those with the viral illness but not taking statins.

Patients with Covid-19 who were taking statins prior to hospitalisation also recovered faster than those not taking cholesterol-lowering medications.

Viral load in Covid-19 patients reducing 

Viral load in Covid-19 patients on average seems to be reducing as the pandemic progresses, according to a US study which also suggests that decline in viral load is linked to a decrease in death rate.

The study was presented at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (ESCMID) Conference on Coronavirus Disease.

The team conducted a study of Covid-19 hospitalised patients between 4 April and 5 June at a hospital in the US.

After the first week, the team found a progressive decline in the percentage of samples which had high viral loads, and there was a rise in the percentage of samples with lower viral load.

By week five of the study, 70 per cent of the positive samples had an initial low viral load. This trend in viral load coincided with a decrease in the percentage of deaths.

As much as 45 per cent of patients in the high viral load group died, compared to 32 per cent and 14 per cent of the intermediate and low viral categories respectively.

Also read: T cells more important than antibodies in body’s immune response to Covid, finds new study


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