Well-Being Medical Advances

New blood test can predict how severe your COVID-19 infection will be

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Story at a glance

  • Researchers at The George Washington University developed a blood test that not only tests if a person has COVID-19 but also predicts how severe their infection will be.
  • The blood test measures the body’s immune system, specifically measuring neutrophil activity.
  • The test could be a powerful tool for doctors to determine how to best treat COVID-19 patients.

Americans have spent the last two years fearing what might happen to them if they were to test positive for COVID-19, with stories ranging from severe cases to mild, asymptomatic ones. A group of scientists says they have created a revolutionary blood test to try determine which it could be. 

George Washington University researchers have reportedly developed a blood test that can quickly detect if someone has the coronavirus while also predicting how severely that person’s immune system will react to the infection. The innovation could help doctors determine the best course of treatment for people with COVID-19. 

In a study published in the Public Library of Science, researchers sequenced whole blood RNA with COVID-19 patients admitted to the George Washington University Hospital Intensive Care Unit. Patients’ symptoms ranged from asymptomatic to severe, and after collecting blood samples researchers noticed visible changes in the cells of people with COVID-19.  

That insight led them to realize that COVID-19 severity was associated with an increase in neutrophil activity and a decrease in T-cell activity. 

Both Neutrophils and T-cells are a type of white blood cell, part of the body’s immune system, and they help fight off infections. 


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The body’s immune system, as measured by neutrophil activity, signals that there’s an infection, which could have been caused by a known, novel or variant pathogen.  

“This test could prove very valuable during the pandemic, especially as variants continue to spread and doctors need to be confident in identifying the problem and providing effective treatment,” said Timothy McCaffrey, professor of medicine at George Washington and lead researcher on the project, in a statement 

“When we sequence whole blood RNA, we’re given a fuller, more dynamic picture of what’s happening inside the body, and our test helps identify those who need the more aggressive treatments.” 

McCaffrey and others previously identified RNA biomarkers for other types of infections, such as appendicitis and pneumonia, and that’s when they noted an increase in neutrophil related RNAs when measuring RNA levels in patients’ blood. 

As the pandemic hit, McCaffrey pivoted course and began applying the same concept to COVID-19 using the approach of identifying RNA biomarkers for COVID-19 infection detection and severity. 

“Beyond the current pandemic, our technique would be able to detect any infection with a high degree of accuracy,” said McCaffrey. “That has applications for all sorts of conditions wherein doctors diagnosing patients need to quickly rule in or rule out whether they are dealing with an infection or something else.” 

McCaffrey says the test is 95 percent accurate, regardless of which variant a person is infected with, because it measures a person’s immune response, not the virus itself, according to NBC news. 

Additional studies are needed to prove that McCaffrey’s test is effective and if that happens, researchers plan to seek an emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.  


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