The use of routine blood tests to assist the diagnosis of COVID-19 in symptomatic hospitalized patients

Ann Clin Biochem. 2021 Mar 9;4563221999076. doi: 10.1177/0004563221999076. Online ahead of print.


Introduction: Specific patterns of blood test results are associated with COVID-19 infection. The aim of this study was to identify which blood tests could be used to assist in diagnosing COVID-19.

Method: A retrospective review was performed on consecutive patients referred to hospital with a clinical suspicion of COVID-19 over a period of four weeks. The patient's clinical presentation and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR) were recorded. The patients were divided by diagnosis into COVID (COVID-19 infection) or CONTROL (an alternate diagnosis). A retrospective review of consecutive patients over a further two-week period was used for the purposes of validation.

Results: Overall, 399 patients (53% COVID, 47% CONTROL) were analysed. White cell count, neutrophils and lymphocytes were significantly lower, while lactate dehydrogenase and ferritin were significantly higher, in the COVID group in comparison to CONTROL. Combining the white cell count, lymphocytes and ferritin results into a COVID Combined Blood Test (CCBT) had an area under the curve of 0.79. Using a threshold CCBT of -0.8 resulted in a sensitivity of 0.85 and a specificity of 0.63. Analysing this against a further retrospective review of 181 suspected COVID-19 patients, using the same CCBT threshold, resulted in a sensitivity of 0.73 and a specificity of 0.75. The sensitivity was comparable to the SARS-CoV-2 RT PCR.

Discussion: Mathematically combining the blood tests has the potential to assist clinical acumen allowing for rapid streaming and more accurate patient flow pending definitive diagnosis. This may be of particular use in low-resource settings.

Keywords: Haemoglobin; proteins; troponin.