London: A simple blood test may predict the risk of severe COVID-19 infection, say scientists who have identified a particular molecular signature in the blood that increases the chances of hospitalisation by 5 to 10 times in people infected by the novel coronavirus.
The test can be used to identify people who'll need special precautions to avoid infection and prioritise those in most need of the COVID-19 vaccine, according to the scientists at Nightingale Health, a biotechnology company in Helsinki, Finland.
Identification of healthy people at high risk for severe COVID-19 is a global health priority, they said.
The researchers investigated whether blood biomarkers measured by high-throughput metabolomics could be predictive of severe pneumonia and COVID-19 hospitalisation years after the blood sampling.
The researchers analysed over 100,000 blood samples from the UK Biobank, and identified a particular molecular signature in the blood that is common among people who get severe symptoms if infected by the coronavirus.
Those with this molecular signature are five to 10 times more likely to be hospitalised, they said.
These findings are novel, as the blood biomarkers in the molecular signature have not been previously known as risk markers in healthy people for developing severe forms of COVID-19, according to the researchers.
The company is launching a blood test that can predict if a person will develop mild symptoms or become severely ill due to COVID-19, the researchers noted in their yet-to-be published findings that appear on preprint server medRxiv.
"The best way to detect those at high risk is by looking at a molecular signature of multiple biomarkers," said Peter Wurtz, lead scientist of the study and Scientific Director of Nightingale Health.
"It is striking that the risk identification works well even when focusing on a subset of biomarkers in Nightingale's blood test that can be captured by self-collection through a finger-prick blood sample," said Wurtz.