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.
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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.
In particular, 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."
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On average, patients in the NYU study were admitted to the hospital three days after their symptoms started.
Most had a temperature and a dry cough, although about a third developed a wet cough.
Less than a quarter were wheezing or had difficulty breathing – and only a few had body aches, a sore throat, or diarrhoea.
The study found that most patients developed mild symptoms at first.
In severe cases, symptoms like shortness of breath, pneumonia, and ARDS typically appeared five to eight days into the illness.
About 88 per cent of patients had white patches, called “ground glass,” on their CT scans, signalling the presence of fluid in their lungs.
But only five – all men – developed severe lung disease.
Data from China, South Korea, and Italy suggests that more men than women are dying of Covid-19.
Two possible explanations is that men report higher rates of smoking and also have higher rates of preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes.
But the NYU researchers determined that gender wasn’t a strong predictor of severe lung disease.
“Even though everyone who had ARDS was male, most of the men in the study did not develop ARDS,” Coffee said.
The researchers also found that age wasn’t a strong warning sign either, even though the Covid-19 death rate is significantly higher among older people.
This comes after it was revealed yesterday that a 13-year-old boy had become Britain's youngest coronavirus victim.
Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab died in King's College Hospital in London on Monday after testing positive for the deadly disease.
Tragically, his mum and six siblings were not able to be by his side in his final moments because of the contagiousness of the killer virus.
The latest figures from the Department of Health reveal 381 people have died in 24 hours after a rise of 180 deaths in the same time period yesterday.
In England, the NHS confirmed the death rate had also more than doubled from 159 on Monday to 367 in the biggest 24-hour leap so far.
The latest victims were aged between 19 and 98 – with 28 having no previous medical conditions – bringing the total death toll in the country to 1,651.
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