COVID-19 Analyses

Illustration of the ultrastructure of the Covid-19 virus. CDC/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Illustration of the ultrastructure of the Covid-19 virus. CDC/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Our group will provide regular updates during the pandemic to the analysis including longer follow-up and pooled analysis with other organisations. Whether these results also apply to infection severity in the non-hospital setting or to different global populations requires further study.

Status: in-progress | First online: 29-03-2020 | Last update: 22-06-2020

Research Articles

  • Using smartphones and wearable devices to monitor behavioural changes during COVID-19
    arXiv:2004.14331
    Shaoxiong Sun, Amos Folarin, Yatharth Ranjan, Zulqarnain Rashid, Pauline Conde, Callum Stewart, Nicholas Cummins, Faith Matcham, Gloria Dalla Costa, Letizia Leocani, Per Soelberg Sørensen, Mathias Buron, Ana Isabel Guerrero, Ana Zabalza, Brenda WJH Penninx, Femke Lamers, Sara Siddi, Josep Maria Haro, Inez Myin-Germeys, Aki Rintala, Vaibhav A. Narayan, Giancarlo Comi, Matthew Hotopf, Richard JB Dobson (on behalf of the RADAR-CNS consortium)

Using smartphones and wearable devices to monitor behavioural changes during COVID-19

First online: 29-04-2020 | Last update: 22-06-2020 (Version 2)

Authors
Shaoxiong Sun, Amos A Folarin, Yatharth Ranjan, Zulqarnain Rashid, Pauline Conde, Callum Stewart, Nicholas Cummins, Faith Matcham, Gloria Dalla Costa, Letizia Leocani, Per Soelberg Sørensen, Mathias Buron, Ana Isabel Guerrero, Ana Zabalza, Brenda WJH Penninx, Femke Lamers, Sara Siddi, Josep Maria Haro, Inez Myin-Germeys, Aki Rintala, Vaibhav A Narayan, Giancarlo Comi, Matthew Hotopf, Richard JB Dobson and on behalf of the RADAR-CNS consortium

The Department of Biostatistics and Health informatics, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK (S Sun PhD, A A Folarin PhD, Y Ranjan MSc, Z Rashid PhD, P Conde BSc, C Stewart MSc, Prof R JB Dobson PhD)
Institute of Health Informatics, University College London, London, UK (A A Folarin PhD, Prof R JB Dobson PhD) Chair of Embedded Intelligence for Health Care & Wellbeing, University of Augsburg, Germany (N Cummins PhD)
The Department of Psychological Medicine, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, UK (F Matcham PhD, Prof M Hotopf PhD)
University Vita Salute San Raffaele, Neurorehabilitation Unit and Institute of Experimental Neurology, IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele, Milan, Italy (G Dalla Costa MD, Prof L Leocani MD)
Danish Multiple Sclerosis Centre, Department of Neurology, Copenhagen University Hospital Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen, Denmark (Prof P S Sørensen MD, M Buron MD)
Multiple Sclerosis Centre of Catalonia (Cemcat), Department of Neurology/Neuroimmunology, Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain (A I Guerrero MSc, A Zabalza MD)
Department of Psychiatry, Amsterdam UMC, Vrije Universiteit and GGZinGeest, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (Prof B WJH Penninx PhD, F Lamers PhD)
Parc Sanitari Sant Joan de Déu, CIBERSAM, Universitat de Barcelona, Sant Boi de Llobregat, Barcelona, Spain (S Siddi PhD, Prof J M Haro MD)
Centre for Contextual Psychiatry, Department of Neurosciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium (Prof I Myin- Germeys PhD, A Rintala MSc)
Janssen Research and Development LLC, Titusville, NJ, USA (V A Narayan PhD)
Institute of Experimental Neurology, IRCCS Ospedale San Raffaele, Milan, Italy (Prof G Comi MD)
South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK (Prof M Hotopf PhD)
www.radar-cns.org (RADAR-CNS consortium)

Corresponding author
Shaoxiong Sun
Email: shaoxiong.sun@kcl.ac.uk
Telephone: +44 (0)20 7848 0951 SGDP Centre, IoPPN
King’s College London
Box PO 80
De Crespigny Park, Denmark Hill London
SE5 8AF

Citation

Sun, Shaoxiong, et al. “Using smartphones and wearable devices to monitor behavioural changes during COVID-19.” arXiv:2004.14331. https://arxiv.org/abs/2004.14331

Summary

Background In the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment for COVID-19, countries have adopted Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) such as social distancing and full lockdown. An objective and quantitative means of monitoring the impact and response of these interventions at a local level is urgently required. Here we explore the utility of the recently developed open-source mobile health platform RADAR-base as a toolbox to test the effect and response to NPIs aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Methods We included 1062 participants recruited in Italy, Spain, Denmark, the UK, and the Netherlands. We derived features from the phone and wearable device for length of time spent at home, distance travelled from home, heart rate, sleep, and patterns of phone use. We visualised data using time series plots and performed statistical tests to assess differences in behaviour during baseline, pre-, and post-lockdown periods.

Findings We found significant changes in behaviours between baseline/pre-lockdown and post-lockdown for all features except total sleep duration. In general, participants spent more time at home, travelled much less, and were more active on their phones, interacting with others by using social apps. Nevertheless, the response across nations differed with Denmark showing attenuated changes in behaviour.

Interpretation Differences in the extracted features by country may reflect variations in communication and implementation of different NPIs as well as cultural differences. We have demonstrated that generalised open-source mobile health monitoring platforms such as RADAR-base which leverages data from wearables and mobile technologies are valuable tools for helping understand the behavioural impact of public health interventions implemented in response to infectious outbreaks such as COVID-19.

Funding EU/EFPIA IMI Joint Undertaking 2 (RADAR-CNS grant No 115902)

1.  Introduction

On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the rapidly spreading SARS-CoV-2 virus outbreak a pandemic. This novel coronavirus is the cause of a contagious acute respiratory disease (COVID-19), which was first reported in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China.1–3 As of 17 April 2020, it had infected over two million people and spread to 210 countries and territories around the world. While precise statistics on mortality are being determined, COVID-19 can be deadly with an estimated 1% case fatality rate, and this rate increases dramatically for the elderly and vulnerable who have underlying health problems.4,5 The outbreak of COVID-19 has placed an unprecedented burden on healthcare systems in most-affected countries and has resulted in considerable economic losses and possible deep global recession.6,7

To date, there is no vaccine or effective treatment. The widely adopted strategy has been the use of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions (NPIs) such as social distancing and even full lockdown in order to control the spread of the virus and ease pressure on health and care systems.8,9 NPIs have been implemented in many countries including China, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom (UK), and the Netherlands. These measures have been shown to considerably reduce the new confirmed cases in China and South Korea, among others.8 Key to the success of NPIs is the timing of these interventions and the response of the population, both of which might differ among countries, and could necessitate further interventions in the case of low compliance either nationally or locally. Therefore, we urgently require an objective and quantitative way to monitor population behaviour to assess the impact and response of such interventions. Additionally, we need to monitor for the potential effects of a rebound in cases in the winter months as social distancing measures are relaxed in order to strategise and understand where course corrections are required. Similarly, understanding potential seasonal forcing of COVID-19 will require a good understanding of the effects of different NPIs so they can be factored out.

The increasing availability of wide-bandwidth mobile networks, smartphones, and wearable sensors makes it possible to collect near-real-time high-resolution datasets from large numbers of participants and greatly facilitates remote monitoring of behaviour.10–12 By leveraging sensor modalities in smartphones which includes Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking, and Fitbit devices which includes step counts and heart rate, it is possible to access mobility and even wellness for the population. To manage the data collected in multiple sensor modalities and mobile devices, platforms such as the open-source RADAR-base (radar-base.org) mobile health platform have been developed.13 This platform has been used to enable remote monitoring in a range of use cases including central nervous system diseases (major depressive disorder (MDD), epilepsy and multiple sclerosis (MS)) as part of the IMI2 RADAR-CNS major programme (radar-cns.org).14

In this paper, we explore the utility of the RADAR-base platform as a toolbox to test the effect and impact of NPIs aimed at limiting the spread of infectious diseases such as COVID-19. Specifically, we investigate parameters derived from smartphones including GPS and phone usage, and from wearable Fitbit devices including step counts, heart rate, and sleep patterns, which may be altered by changes in lifestyle due to NPIs such as social isolation.

2. Methods

We leveraged participant data already collected from November 2017 onwards as part of the ongoing RADAR-CNS studies.13–15 The RADAR-CNS studies were approved by all local ethics committees and all participants signed informed consent.15 We included 1062 participants recruited in five European countries: Italy, Spain, Denmark, the UK, and the Netherlands. The data have been collected for the purpose of finding new ways of monitoring MDD (Spain (150), the Netherlands (103) and the UK (316)) and MS (Milan, Italy (208); Barcelona, Spain (179); and Copenhagen, Denmark (106)) using wearable devices and smartphone technology to improve patients’ Quality of Life (QOL), and potentially to change the treatment of these and other chronic disorders. As we focused on country-level behavioural changes in response to the NPIs, we aggregated data collected in Spain and did not focus on analysing differences between participants with MDD and MS (except for a sensitivity analysis described in the Discussion). Passive participant data were collected through a smartphone and a Fitbit device, which included location, activity, sleep, heart rate and phone usage data. These passive data required minimal conscious participant engagement and were collected continuously on a 24/7 basis. In addition to passive data, active data were collected, which required clinicians or participants to fill out forms or questionnaires or perform short clinical tests (e.g. speech, walking, balance tests). All data were managed by the RADAR-base platform.

To study physical-behavioural changes in response to COVID-19 NPIs, we examined participants’ mobility by analysing relative GPS data from smartphones and step count data from Fitbit devices. We investigated phone unlock duration and social app duration to study social-behavioural changes. Functional measures such as sleep and heart rate from Fitbit devices were also analysed to identify possible changes as a result of social distancing.

The smartphone-derived GPS data were sampled at a frequency of five minutes by default, with lower frequency dependent on network connectivity. Spurious GPS coordinates were identified and removed if they differed from preceding and following coordinates by more than five degrees. Home location was determined daily by clustering GPS data between 8 pm and 4 am with the mean coordinate of the largest cluster being used. The clustering was implemented using Density-Based Spatial Clustering of Applications with Noise.16 A duration gated by two adjacent coordinates was regarded as a valid homestay duration on the condition that both coordinates were no further than 200 meters from the home location. A duration longer than one hour was excluded due to the large proportion of missing data when compared to the five-minute sampling frequency. All valid home stay durations between 8 am and 11 pm were summed to calculate daily homestay. Daily maximum distance from home was also computed based on the coordinates in the same period.

In addition to mobility features extracted from smartphones, intraday time series for step count was taken from the Fitbit device. Likewise, daily sleep duration was computed as the summation of all of the four Fitbit-output stages (AWAKE, LIGHT, DEEP, REM) sampled every 30 seconds. Finally, daily mean heart rate was calculated by averaging the Fitbit-output heart rate readings, sampled every five seconds.

To explore changes in phone usage, daily unlock duration was calculated by summing time intervals starting with the unlocked state and ending with the standby state. Single intervals longer than four hours were excluded, which might result from a missing standby state or unintentionally leaving the phone unlocked. App usage was quantified by classifying apps according to categories listed on Google Play. As we were particularly interested in cyber social interactions at the time of social distancing, we focused on the daily use time of social apps such as Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

We visualised data using time series plots. The participant daily average and standard deviation of each feature were calculated and then plotted. A minimum of 20 participants’ data points was a prerequisite for calculation for any given day in order to reduce variance and noise. The calculation was implemented after excluding zeros and then excluding values below 10% or above 90% on each day. This filtering step helped to mitigate the influence of daily outliers caused, for example, by missing data. To facilitate interpretation, we also marked time points of public announcements related to lockdown policies.17

To examine physical- and social-behavioural changes induced by the lockdowns, comparisons among baseline, pre-, and post-lockdown were carried out using Kruskal-Wallis Tests, where the filtered daily average of features for 20 consecutive days were used for each of the three groups.18 For the baseline phase, we chose either a 20-day period around one year before the lockdowns, or the earliest stable 20-day period. For the pre-lockdown phase, we chose the period immediately before the first restrictive measure. For the post-lockdown phase, we chose the period following the most recent lockdown. If a significant difference among these three groups was found, post-hoc Dunn test was applied with Bonferroni corrections.19 Boxplots were used to present the results. A p-value < 0·05, after correction, was deemed statistically significant. It should be noted that we only applied corrections resulting from multiple comparisons for a given feature and a given country.

3.  Results

Time series plots from 1 February 2019 to 12 April 2019 and boxplots of features are shown in figure 1-5 and in figure 6 (a-g). Figure 7 shows zoom-in time series plots for figure 3 and 4. Most features (except total sleep duration) in baseline and pre-lockdown phases were significantly different from post-lockdown phases. In Italy, homestay duration started to increase when Lombardy went into lockdown and remained athigh levels during the national lockdown (z-test statistics = -6·3, p-value < 0·001). Similarly, maximum distance from home reduced to very low levels by the end of March (z-test statistics = 6·1, p-value < 0·001) and Fitbit step count (z-test statistics = 5·1, p-value < 0·001) and heart rate (z-test statistics = 6·2, p-value <0·001) decreased. We saw an increase in phone usage, as measured through unlock duration (z-test statistics = -5·4, p-value < 0·001) and social app duration (z-test statistics= – 3·7, p-value < 0·001). In Spain, after the lockdown was imposed, there was a sudden and marked increase in homestay duration (z-test statistics = -5·4, p-value < 0·001), reduction in maximum distance from home (z-test statistics = 4·5, p-value< 0·001), and reduction in Fitbit step count (z-test statistics = 4·4, p-value < 0·001), phone interaction (unlock duration (z-test statistics = -6·2, p-value < 0·001) and social app duration (z-test statistics = -4·3, p<0·001)). In Denmark, the changes in homestay duration (z-test statistics = -5·4, p-value < 0·001) and Fitbit step count (z-test statistics = 2·7, p-value < 0·05) were less evident when restrictions were applied, but maximum distance from home dropped sharply (z-test statistics = 4·2, p-value < 0·001). In the UK, starting from one week before the national recommendation, we saw a dramatic increase in homestay duration (z-test statistics = -5·4, p-value < 0·001) and a sharp decrease in maximum distance from home (z-test statistics = 4·1, p-value < 0·001). Similar changes were observed in phone interaction (unlock duration (z-test statistics= -3·4, p-value < 0·01) and social app duration (z-test statistics = -3·0, p-value < 0·01)) and Fitbit step count (z-test statistics= 4·1, p-value < 0·001) as well. In the Netherlands, an increase in homestay duration (z-test statistics= -4·0, p-value < 0·001) and decrease in distance from home (z-test statistics = 4·6, p-value < 0·001) was observed, while the changes in Fitbit step count (z-test statistics = 3·8, p-value < 0·001), phone usage (unlock duration (z-test statistics = -3·0, p-value < 0·01) and social app duration (z-test statistics = -4·3, p-value < 0·001)) were less obvious compared toItaly, Spain and the UK. In Figure 7, we observed marked changes following two announcements in addition to national NPIs. In all the time series plots, we observed behavioural changes induced by country-specific NPIs and announcements.

4.  Discussion

In this study, we investigated COVID-19 related changes in features derived from mobile devices (smartphones and wearable Fitbit devices) of participants recruited from five European countries to theRADAR-CNS programme. We studied how lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic affected participant behaviour in terms of mobility, functional measures, and phone usage.

Our results demonstrate that, in all countries, the lockdown significantly altered lifestyles, albeit in different ways. Participants spent more time at home, travelled much less, and were more active on their phone, interacting with others by using social apps. However, the response across nations differed and may be related to the country-specific implementations of NPIs and perceived degree of risk at the national level. Participants in Spain put a hard stop on daily outdoor activity on the day of their national quarantine. In contrast, participants in Denmark maintained more of their usual daily routine. These findings are also in line with Google mobility reports.20–24 According to the reports updated on 11 April, Italy, Spain, and the UK saw no less than a 32% decrease for all mobility trends except residential stay, which witnessed over a 19%increase. On the contrary, Denmark and the Netherlands showed more than a 33% increase in mobility trends for parks, in addition to no more than an 11% increase in residential stays. Furthermore, mobility trends to Grocery and Pharmacy witnessed a 4% decrease in the Netherlands and a 4% increase in Denmark. The difference in the changes in the extracted features may reflect difference in communication and implementations of NPIs, population reactions to different coping strategies, and cultural differences.

In comparison to Google mobility reports which provide valuable aggregated data for short periods, RADAR-base is an open-source highly configurable platform that allows for collecting and analysing participant-level data in real-time with a potential for targeted interventions. In addition, RADAR-base also collects self-reported questionnaires related to emotional well- being, functional status, and disease symptom severity of its participants.15 In April 2020, new questionnaires are being distributed to specifically assess COVID-19 symptoms and diagnosis status of our research participants. Our future work will use the entirety of these data to gain additional insights such as digital early warning signs of COVID-19 and impact of COVID-19 on the QOL and clinical trajectory of their primary diagnosis (MDD or MS).

We speculate that the decrease in heart rate may be attributed to the increase in indoor stay and greater sedentary behaviour, and the slight increase in total sleep duration. This decrease, coupled with an increase in social app duration, could possibly serve as indicators of social distancing. Furthermore, it has been shown that an elevated resting heart rate may suggest acute infections.25 It would be interesting to infer one’s infection by continuously monitoring heart rate, especially when the population remains indoor for a vast majority of the time. Such monitoring provides the possibility to generate early warning signals for symptomatic or presymptomatic respiratory infections, thereby aiding timely self-isolation or treatment. The COVID-19 related questionnaires we are now distributing will allow us to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between mobile devices derived features including heart rate/activity and the COVID-19 symptoms.

In addition to changes in trends, we also identified interesting findings that happened over very short periods (see figure 7). A dramatic change in unlock duration was observed in Denmark around 11 March 2020 which may be related to the announcement of the pending lockdown on that day and a 185% increase in the confirmed cases in Denmark on the previous day. Another example can be seen just after the mitigation phase was announced in the UK on 12 March, in which social distancing was not strongly recommended, some participants seemed to isolate themselves voluntarily by staying at home for much longer. This observation may also explain the significant difference between the baseline and pre- lockdown phases and suggests that people may have acted ahead of further government restriction. Furthermore, this is accompanied by a marked loss of weekday/weekend periodic structure pre/post lockdown period (see figure 7). Together these observations highlight the potential of remote monitoring to monitor population reactions to interventions.

There are some issues to consider in relation to this work. Firstly, we only used a limited duration of periods (20 days) to compare the behaviour across the three phases. This limitation was because lockdowns had only recently been imposed. However, even with these short periods, we were still able to detect significant differences among the three phases, highlighting the potential advantages of using mobile devices for detecting behaviour changes. Future work will focus on collecting and analysing more data as the project data collection is ongoing. Second, the participants included in this study have different medical conditions (depression or multiple sclerosis), which led to different baseline levels across countries. Nevertheless, as the focus of this study is the changes in the pre-, and post-lockdown phases relative to the baseline, we were still able to identify and compare the changes induced by lockdowns. We also analysed the data collected in Spain split into MDD and MS separately. The trends and the statistical differences in all features remained the same except total sleep duration. The unsplit case showed statistical significance (z-test statistics = -2·4, p = 0·047), while the split case did not. This was probably due to reduced sample size when split into MDD and MS. Understanding of any artefacts or effects introduced into the RADAR-CNS data by the NPIs will be crucial in RADAR-CNS being able to deliver its aim of identifying signals that predict and prevent MDD and MS. Third, on account of requirements for participants’ privacy in the RADAR-CNS studies, location data were purposely obfuscated with a participant-specific random value preventing precise localisation of the participants, which prevented us from taking into account geographic factors within a country. It would be interesting to examine how specific regions react to lockdowns when these data are available in future work. Fourth, limited sample sizes in certain countries and data loss impacted the smoothness of the time series plots. The time series plots for Denmark and the Netherlands showed relatively large variance particularly in the early phase as these sites have only recently begun recruiting. Several dips and spikes in step counts and heart rate were seen in all countries during July and August. This was due to the fact that we had some data loss due to connectivity issues with the Fitbit server during this time. Fifth, we only explored a subset of features that can be derived from smartphones and Fitbit wearable devices. Future work will investigate whether other features offer additional information for a more complete description of lifestyle changes. Finally, national policy and participant acceptability determine what value is placed on privacy and therefore, what level of monitoring is acceptable. At one end of the spectrum, we have seen individual-level contact tracing mobile apps and at the other privacy-preserving approaches that only allow population intervention monitoring. We were able to demonstrate value in the data collected even under strict privacy-preserving conditions.

5.  Conclusions

Using individual-level data from smartphones and wearable devices over a one-year period covering the outbreak and subsequent spread of the COVID-19 pandemic across five European countries, we were able to detect and monitor the physical-behavioural and social- behavioural changes in response to the NPIs. We found that most participants spent more time at home, travelled much less and were more active on their phone, in particular, interacting with others using social apps. We also showed the different responses across countries with Denmark showing attenuated responses to NPIscompared to other countries. Furthermore, we were able to identify features such as homestay duration, maximum distance from home and step count which varied significantly as the implementation of NPIs. These features could be used as objective measures for evaluating aspects of NPIs performance during their introduction and any subsequent relaxation of these measures. This work demonstrates the value of a generalised open-source platform such as RADAR-base to leverage data from wearables and mobile technologies for understanding behavioural impact of public health interventions implemented in response to infectious outbreaks such as COVID-19. This ability to monitor response to interventions, in near real time, will be particularly important in understanding behaviour as social distancing measures are relaxed as part of an COVID-19 exit strategy. Future work will include utilising participants responses to COVID-19 related questionnaires, together with an expanded feature set to gain more specific understandings into the relationship between mobile devices derived features and the COVID-19 symptoms.


Figure 1. Time series plots for Milan, Italy (208 participants).
For the most recent updated figures, please click here.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 2. Time series plots for Spain (329 participants).
For the most recent updated figures, please click here.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 3. Time series plots for Copenhagen, Denmark (106 participants).
For the most recent updated figures, please click here.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 4. Time series plots for London, the United Kingdom (316 participants).
For the most recent updated figures, please click here.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 5. Time series plot for Amsterdam, the Netherlands (103 participants).
For the most recent updated figures, please click here.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 6. Boxplots for comparisons among baseline, pre- and post-lockdown phases for different features.

* means p < 0.05, ** means p < 0.01, ** means p < 0.001. (a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration.


Figure 7. Zoom-in time series plots for Copenhagen, Denmark and the UK.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.

Contributors
SS, AAF, and RJBD contributed to the study design. SS contributed to the data analysis, figures drawing, and manuscript writing. AAF, NC, VAN, GC, MH and RJBD contributed to the critical revision of the manuscript. AAF, YR, ZR, PC, CS, and RJBD contributed to the platform design and implementation. AAF, IMG, AR, VAN, GC, MH, and RJBD contributed to the administrative, technical and clinical support of the study. FM, GDC, LL, ALG, AZ, BWJHP, FL, SS, JMH contributed to data collection.

Data Sharing
The scientific data used in this paper is collected under the project: EU/EFPIA IMI RADAR-CNS (grant agreement No 115902). The data usability and sharing are performed under the agreed guidelines of RADAR-CNS consortium. The anonymised data will be shared upon request subject to RADAR-CNS consortium approval. Pending the aforementioned approval, data sharing will be made in a secure setting, on a per-case-specific manner. Please submit such requests to the corresponding author of the paper. The shared data cannot be used for publication purposes without explicit consent of the RADAR-CNS consortium. The additional related documents are available (e.g. study protocol, statistical analysis plan, informed consent form) upon request.

Declaration of interests
VAN is an employee of Janssen Research & Development LLC and may own equity in the company.

Acknowledgements
This study was supported by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, King’s College London, and EU/EFPIA IMI Joint Undertaking 2 (RADAR-CNS grant No 115902). This communication reflects the views of the RADAR-CNS consortium, and neither IMI nor the European Union and EFPIA are liable for any use that may be made of the information contained herein. Participant recruitment in Amsterdam, the Netherlands was partially accomplished through Hersenonderzoek.nl, the Dutch online registry that facilitates participant recruitment for neuroscience studies (www.hersenonderzoek.nl). Hersenonderzoek.nl is funded by ZonMw-Memorabel (project no. 73305095003), a project in the context of the Dutch Deltaplan Dementie, Gieskes-Strijbis Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Society in the Netherlands (AlzheimerNederland) and Brain Foundation Netherlands (Hersenstichting). This study has also received support from Health Data Research UK (funded by the UK Medical Research Council), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social ResearchCouncil, Department of Health and Social Care (England), Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), British Heart Foundation and Wellcome Trust, and The National Institute for Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre.

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  14. Stewart CL, Rashid Z, Ranjan Y, Sun S, Dobson RJB, Folarin AA. RADAR-base: Major depressive disorder and epilepsy case studies. In: UbiComp/ISWC 2018. 2018. p. 1735–43.
  15. Matcham F, Barattieri di San Pietro C, Bulgari V, de Girolamo G, Dobson R, Eriksson H, RADAR-CNS consortium. Remote assessment of disease and relapse in major depressive disorder (RADAR-MDD): a multi-centre prospective cohort study protocol. BMC Psychiatry 2019; 19: 72
  16. Ester M, Kriegel H-P, Sander J, Xu X. A Density-Based Algorithm for Discovering Clusters in Large Spatial Databases with Noise. In: Proc 2nd Int Conf Knowledge Discovery and Data Mining (KDD’96). 1996. p.226–31.
  17. Hale T, Webster S, Petherick A, Phillips T, and Kira K. Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker, Blavatnik School of Government. Data use policy: Creative Commons Attribution CC BY standard 2020. https://www.bsg.ox.ac.uk/research/research-projects/coronavirus-government-response-tracker (accessed April 16, 2020)
  18. Ostertagová E, Ostertag O, Kováč J. Methodology and application of the Kruskal-Wallis Test. Appl Mech Mater 2014; 611: 115–20.
  19. Dinno A. Nonparametric pairwise multiple comparisons in independent groups using Dunn’s Test. Stata J 2015; 15: 292–300.
  20. https://www.gstatic.com/COVID19/mobility/2020-04-11_GB_Mobility_Report_en.pdf (accessed April 16, 2020)
  21. https://www.gstatic.com/COVID19/mobility/2020-04-11_ES_Mobility_Report_en.pdf (accessed April 16, 2020)
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  23. https://www.gstatic.com/COVID19/mobility/2020-04-11_IT_Mobility_Report_en.pdf (accessed April 16, 2020)
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  25. Radin JM, Wineinger NE, Topol EJ, Steinhubl SR. Harnessing wearable device data to improve state-level real-time surveillance of influenza-like illness in the USA: a population-based study. Lancet Digit Heal 2020; 2: e85–93.

Latest Figures

Last update 22 June 2020


Figure 1 Annex. Time series plots for Milan, Italy (208 participants). Zoom-in (for 2020) – second plots.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 2 Annex. Time series plots for Spain (329 participants). Zoom-in (for 2020) – second plots.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 3 Annex. Time series plots for Copenhagen, Denmark (106 participants). Zoom-in (for 2020) – second plots.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 4 Annex. Time series plots for London, the United Kingdom (316 participants). Zoom-in (for 2020) – second plots.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.


Figure 5 Annex. Time series plot for Amsterdam, the Netherlands (103 participants). Zoom-in (for 2020) – second plots.

(a): homestay duration, (b): maximum distance from home, (c): Fitbit step count, (d): total sleep duration, (e): heart rate, (f): unlock duration, (g): social app duration. Solid line: mean, shade: mean ± standard deviation.

ACE-inhibitors and Angiotensin-2 Receptor Blockers are not associated with severe SARS-COVID19 infection in a multi-site UK acute Hospital Trust

First online: 29-03-2020 | Last update: 12-05-2020 (Version 2)

Authors
Daniel M Bean
1,2+Zeljko Kraljevic1, Thomas Searle1, Rebecca Bendayan1,4, Kevin O’Gallagher5,6, Andrew Pickles1, Amos Folarin1,2,3,7, Lukasz Roguski2,3,7, Kawsar Noor2,3,7, Anthony Shek8, Rosita Zakeri5,6, Ajay M Shah5,6+*, James TH Teo5,8+*, Richard JB Dobson1,2,3,4,7+* 

*joint author   +joint corresponding authors

Affiliations

  1. Department of Biostatistics and Health Informatics, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, U.K.
  2. Health Data Research UK London, University College London, London, U.K.
  3. Institute of Health Informatics, University College London, London, U.K.
  4. NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, London, U.K.
  5. Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, U.K.
  6. School of Cardiovascular Medicine & Sciences, King’s College London British Heart Foundation Centre of Excellence, London SE5 9NU, U.K.
  7. NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London.
  8. Dept of Clinical Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London

Correspondence: Prof Richard Dobson, Dept of Biostatistics and Health Informatics, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, 6 De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK (richard.j.dobson@kcl.ac.uk).
Or: Dr Dan Bean (daniel.bean@kcl.ac.uk); Dr James Teo (jamesteo@nhs.net); Prof Ajay Shah (ajay.shah@kcl.ac.uk)

Citation

Bean, Daniel, et al. “ACE-inhibitors and Angiotensin-2 Receptor Blockers are not associated with severe SARS-COVID19 infection in a multi-site UK acute Hospital Trust.”medRxiv 2020.04.07.20056788. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.07.20056788Accepted at the European Journal of Heart Failure. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejhf.1924

Abstract:

Aims: The SARS-Cov2 virus binds to the ACE2 receptor for cell entry. It has been suggested that ACE-inhibitors (ACEi) and Angiotensin-2 Blockers (ARB), which are commonly used in patients with hypertension or diabetes and may raise ACE2 levels, could increase the risk of severe COVID19 infection.

Methods and Results: We evaluated this hypothesis in a consecutive cohort of 1200 acute inpatients with COVID19 at two hospitals with a multi-ethnic catchment population in London (UK). The mean age was 68±17 years (57% male) and 74% of patients had at least 1 comorbidity. 415 patients (34.6%) reached the primary endpoint of death or transfer to a critical care unit for organ support within 21-days of symptom onset. 399 patients (33.3 %) were taking ACEi or ARB. Patients on ACEi/ARB were significantly older and had more comorbidities. The odds ratio (OR) for the primary endpoint in patients on ACEi and ARB, after adjustment for age, sex and co-morbidities, was 0.63 (CI 0.47-0.84, p<0.01).

Conclusions: There was no evidence for increased severity of COVID19 disease in hospitalised patients on chronic treatment with ACEi or ARB. A trend towards a beneficial effect of ACEi/ARB requires further evaluation in larger meta-analyses and randomised clinical trials.

Keywords: COVID19, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, hypertension, disease outcome

Introduction

The SARS-Cov2 pandemic is a major medical and socioeconomic challenge with at least 3 million confirmed cases to date. Data on the clinical characteristics of patients who require hospital admission for COVID19 disease from China, Italy and the US consistently show that patients with cardiovascular comorbidities are over-represented and may have an increased risk of severe COVID19 disease.1–3 The reasons underlying the increased incidence of severe COVID19 infection in those with comorbidities such as hypertension, diabetes and other cardiovascular conditions are unknown.

The SARS-Cov2 virus requires the binding of its viral surface spike protein to the ACE2 receptor expressed on epithelial cells in order to be internalised and then undergo replication.4 Previous studies suggest that the expression of ACE2 may be increased by chronic treatment with ACEi or ARB.5 As such, it has been hypothesized that treatment with ACEi or ARB could increase the likelihood of SARS-Cov2 binding and entry into epithelial or other cells.6 Furthermore, it is hypothesised that such a mechanism could account for the increased incidence of severe COVID19 infection among patients with cardiovascular comorbidities, who are frequently treated with ACEi/ARB.6 Whether or not treatment with ACEi/ARB increases the risk of severe COVID19 disease is a very important question in view of the large numbers of patients potentially on these drugs, especially in western countries with older populations. The issue is controversial because ACEi/ARB may potentially be beneficial in severe lung injury by reducing activation of the renin angiotensin system (RAS).7,8 Furthermore, increased levels of ACE2 itself have been shown to be protective during severe lung injury.9,10 The potential effect of ACEi and ARB during infection with SARS-CoV-2 therefore requires urgent clarification.

We tested for association between treatment with ACEi/ARB and disease severity in a consecutive series of 1200 patients with COVID19 disease admitted to two UK hospitals, King’s College Hospital and Princess Royal University Hospital, that have been at the epicentre of the pandemic in London. We used an established and validated informatics pipeline to allow rapid evaluation of this important question during the pandemic.

Methods

This project operated under London South East Research Ethics Committee approval (reference 18/LO/2048) granted to the King’s Electronic Records Research Interface (KERRI); specific work on COVID19 research was reviewed with expert patient input on a virtual committee with Caldicott Guardian oversight.

Study Design:
The study cohort was defined as all adult inpatients testing positive for SARS-Cov2 by RT-PCR at King’s College Hospital and Princess Royal University Hospital from 1st March to 13th April 2020. Only symptomatic patients who required inpatient admission were included. Presenting symptoms included but were not limited to fever, cough, dyspnoea, myalgia, chest pain or delirium. The primary endpoint was defined as death or admission to a critical care unit for organ-support within 21 days of symptoms onset. Data were collected for a range of clinical and demographic parameters (Table 1). To ascertain chronic treatment with ACEi, ARB and other relevant medications, we captured information from clinical notes, outpatient clinic letters and inpatient medication orders. If a drug was a regular medication in the community but withheld on admission, we considered this to be on chronic treatment. The primary endpoint was manually verified by clinician review of the electronic health record.

Data Processing:
The data (demographic, emergency department letters, discharge summaries, clinical notes, radiology reports, medication orders, lab results) was retrieved and analysed in near real-time from the structured and unstructured components of the electronic health record (EHR) using a variety of well-validated natural language processing (NLP) informatics tools belonging to the CogStack ecosystem,11 namely DrugPipeline,12 MedCAT13 and MedCATTrainer.14 The CogStack NLP pipeline captures negation, synonyms, and acronyms for medical SNOMED-CT concepts as well as surrounding linguistic context using deep learning and long short-term memory networks. DrugPipeline was used to annotate medications and MedCAT produced unsupervised annotations for all SNOMED-CT concepts under parent terms Clinical Finding, Disorder, Organism, and Event with disambiguation, pre-trained on MIMIC-III.15 Further supervised training improved detection of annotations and meta-annotations such as experiencer (is the concept annotated experienced by the patient or other), negation (is the concept annotated negated or not) and temporality (is the concept annotated in the past or present ) with MedCATTrainer. Meta-annotations for hypothetical and experiencer were merged into Irrelevant meaning that any concept annotated as either hypothetical or where the experiencer was not the patient was annotated as irrelevant. Performance of the MedCAT NLP pipeline for disorders mentioned in the text was evaluated on 5617 annotations for 265 documents by a domain expert (JTHT) and F1, precision and recall recorded. Additional full case review for correct subsequent diagnosis assignment was performed by 3 clinicians (JTHT, KOG, RZ) for key comorbidities. The performance of DrugPipeline has previously been described.12 Manual review of 100 detections gave F1=0.91 for exclusion of drug allergies by DrugPipeline.

Statistical Analysis:
In order to investigate the association between ACEi/ARB and disease severity measured as critical care admission or death, we performed a series of logistic regressions. In a first step, we explored independently the association for ACEi/ARB (Baseline model). In a second step, we adjusted the model for age and sex (Model 1). Then, we additionally adjusted for hypertension (Model 2) and finally, additionally adjusted for other comorbidities, i.e. diabetes, ischemic heart disease, heart failure and chronic kidney disease (Model 3). We also explored the independent association for hypertension following the same modelling approach. In addition, we assessed the robustness to unmeasured confounders of the fully adjusted estimate of ACEi/ARB  effect using the e-value approach, which are defined as the minimum strength of association on the risk-ratio scale that an unmeasured confounder would need to have with both the treatment assignment and the outcome to fully explain away a specific treatment-outcome association, conditional on the measured covariates16. Sensitivity analyses were performed i) requiring at least two detections of medication for positive exposure; ii) using only structured data on in-hospital medication orders; iii) ignoring our 21 day window for medications; iv) testing sensitivity to unmeasured confounders.

Role of the funding source:
The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Results

Our total cohort consisted of 1200 confirmed positive symptomatic inpatients aged 63+20 (SD) years with 52% being male (Table 1). The patients were of diverse ethnicities with over 30% from minority ethnic groups. Nearly 75% of patients had one or more comorbidities. The commonest comorbidities were hypertension (51.2%), diabetes (30.2%), chronic kidney disease (17.2%), and ischaemic heart disease or heart failure (22.2%). 15.2% of patients had a BMI greater than 30 kg/m2. A total of 399 patients (33.2%) were on chronic treatment with ACEi or ARB. 415 of the 1200 patients (34.6%) required admission to the Critical Care Unit or had died within 21 days of symptom onset. Among patients who achieved the primary endpoint (Death or Critical Care admission), the percentage who had positive mentions for various disorders derived via the NLP for medical concept annotations with F1 > 80% and more than 10 annotated mentions, as compared to those not achieving the primary endpoint, is shown in Figure 1. The performance of the NLP pipeline is shown in Figure 2. Manual validation of the presence of comorbidities was performed in a sample of 200 patients and showed excellent performance, for example a false positive rate of 1% for hypertension and 0% for diabetes.

We next compared the outcome of patients on chronic treatment with ACEi/ARB versus those not on these agents. The group on ACEi/ARB were significantly older but had a similar male/female split and a similar ethnicity profile to those not on ACEi/ARB (Table 1). The BMI was similar between groups. There was a greater proportion of patients with cardiovascular comorbidities (hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, ischaemic heart disease) and chronic kidney disease in the group on ACEi/ARB than those not taking these drugs, as would be expected. Therefore, the patients on ACEi/ARB had a higher prevalence of factors associated with worse outcome of COVID19 disease in prior studies.1–3 The ACEi/ARB group also had higher rates of treatment with beta blockers and statins than those not on ACEi/ARB, consistent with their higher rates of cardiovascular morbidities. Figure 3 shows Kaplan-Meier curves for the primary end-point in patients on ACEi/ARB and those not on these drugs.
To assess the independent effect of ACEi/ARB on primary outcome, we first performed an unadjusted logistic regression analysis. This indicated that the likelihood of a severe outcome was similar in individuals on ACEi/ARB as compared to those not on these drugs, with an Odds Ratio (OR) of 0·83 (CI 0·64-1·07) – Baseline Model, Table 2. However, after adjustments for age and sex (Model 1 in Table 2), the likelihood of severe disease was significantly lower in those on ACEi/ARBs (OR 0.70 [0.53-0.91], p<0.01). Additional adjustment for hypertension (Model 2 in Table 2) and for the other major comorbidities, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and ischaemic heart disease/heart failure (Model 3 in Table 2), had a modest further effect. The OR for the primary outcome in Model 3 was 0.63 (0.47-0.84), p<0.01. Supplementary Table 1 shows the OR and p-values for all variables in each model. Male patients were found to have a higher likelihood of severe disease in Model 3 (OR 1·50 [CI 1·17-1·93], p=<0.01).

We also examined the independent association between hypertension and disease severity. The results showed that individuals with hypertension had a similar likelihood of suffering a severe outcome as those that without hypertension, either in unadjusted models (OR 1·25 [CI 0·98-1·59]; p=0·069) or in models adjusted for age and gender (OR 1·03 [CI 0·80-1·32]; p=0·83).

Sensitivity analyses were performed using criteria for ACEi exposure that were either more strict (requiring multiple mentions in the clinical notes or using only in-hospital medication orders as evidence) or less strict (including any mention of ACEi treatment even outside a 21 day window from onset of symptoms). In all cases, the estimates of the impact of ACEi treatment were consistent with those in Table 2. In analysis requiring at least two mentions of chronic treatment with ACEi/ARB, we found that this was significant in the uncorrected baseline model (a lower OR). We estimated an e-value of 1.818 which suggests that the estimate could be vulnerable to possible confounders not yet included.

Discussion

This study in a large consecutive cohort of 1200 patients in the UK suggests that chronic treatment with ACEi and ARB is not associated with an increase in severe outcome of COVID19 disease, defined as death or admission to a critical care unit. The hypothetical relationship between treatment with ACEi/ARB and severe COVID19 disease has been intensely debated.6-7,8 There are theoretical mechanisms whereby chronic treatment with ACEi/ARB might increase propensity to SARS-CoV2 infection as well as other mechanisms whereby treatment with these agents might be beneficial. It is a particularly important question because chronic treatment with ACEi/ARB is of proven benefit in conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, chronic kidney disease and heart failure and an unwarranted cessation of therapy in patients with these conditions as a result of the SARS-CoV2 pandemic could have serious long-term detrimental effects.

The general clinical characteristics and the rates of severe outcome of the patients in our study were broadly similar to those that have been described in recent large series from Italy and the USA.1–3 We found that patients who were on chronic treatment with ACEi/ARB had many demographic and comorbidity features that have been associated in previous studies with worse outcome in COVID-19 disease, such as an older age and a higher prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, heart failure and other morbidities1–3. Treatment with ACEi/ARB was nevertheless not associated with an increase in rates of severe outcomes, with or without adjustment for age, sex and comorbidities. Two very recent studies from China have reported on the relationship between ACEi/ARB and outcome of COVID-19 disease in hospitalised patients. In a single centre study from Wuhan in which only 115 of 1178 patients (<10%) were taking ACEi/ARB, the authors did not find any relationship between these drugs and outcome,17 the data are however limited by the low numbers on ACEi/ARB and potential confounding by other factors. A second report was a retrospective multi-centre study including 1128 patients but again had only 188 patients (16.6%) on treatment with ACEi/ARB.18 This study suggested that treatment with ACEi/ARB was associated with a lower rate of severe outcome with COVID19 infection. Our study is the first to be conducted on an ethnically mixed population in the western world and includes significant proportions of both White and minority ethnic (Black, Asian) patients. The rates of usage of ACEi/ARB in our study (33.2%) are in line with those expected in well-treated patients with comorbidities and are therefore, in principle, more applicable to patients in Europe and the Americas. Ethnicity is a very pertinent issue in this regard due to the recognised ethnicity-related differences in response to drugs affecting the RAS.19,20 Of relevance, the ethnicity profiles of the patients on ACEi/ARB in our study were similar to those not taking these drugs.

In the current study, when we adjusted for age, sex and comorbidities in logistic regression analyses, the OR for a severe outcome was significantly lower in patients on ACEi/ARB than those not on these agents. This suggestion of a favourable association of treatment with ACEi/ARB  and less severe outcome in COVID19 disease would be consistent with the hypothesised beneficial effects of inhibition of RAS activation in patients with severe lung injury or Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS).7,8 However due to possibility of unmeasured confounds, the confirmation of a potential therapeutic benefit of treatment with ACEi/ARB in COVID19 disease would require further studies and randomised control trials.

This study used an NLP approach to perform very rapid analysis of high volume, unstructured real world clinical data. This however introduces the possibility of missing circumlocutory mentions of disease, symptoms or medications. We mitigated against this by manually validating annotations in a subset of records and also verifying drug treatments against inpatient electronic prescription data. Moreover, we performed sensitivity analyses to test the impact of different criteria to define the ACEi/ARB exposed cohort on our results, and found that the OR remained <1.0 and significant for ACEi/ARB exposure in all adjusted analyses. We therefore consider our analysis pipeline to be robust to specific details of the pipeline that are not clinically relevant. However we did find that the estimated odds ratio may be sensitive to unmeasured confounding, which suggests caution in the interpretation of any protective effect and the need for replication in a larger sample remains.

Our study has some potential limitations. Although the patients and data were prospectively collected, the analyses were retrospective. The study was conducted on two hospital sites in a single geographical, albeit ethnically mixed, locus in the UK over a relatively short follow-up period. However, the duration of follow-up is sufficient to accurately detect early severe outcomes based on the data from multiple studies during the current pandemic. We used the covariates identified as important in the previous large case series on COVID19 1–3, including age, sex and common comorbidities, to adjust our analyses. However, it is possible that other unmeasured confounders could have influenced the results. For example, the patients on chronic ACEi/ARB treatment were also more frequently treated with statins than those not on these drugs, which could suggest that their medical conditions were generally better managed. However, the ACEi/ARB group was also older and had higher rates of hypertension, diabetes and multiple morbidities, making it unlikely that these patients were physiologically healthier. Our study was performed in patients with COVID19 who required hospitalisation; the effect of chronic treatment with ACEi/ARB on less severe infection with SARS-CoV2 in the non-hospital setting requires further study. Whether the current results are applicable to other global populations, such as in Africa, will also require additional study.

In summary, the results of this study in 1200 patients show no evidence of a detrimental effect of chronic treatment with ACEi/ARB in patients presenting with severe COVID19 infection. Patients on treatment with ACEi/ARB should continue these drugs during their COVID19 illness as per current ESC Council guidelines.21

Acknowledgements

DMB is funded by a UKRI Innovation Fellowship (Health Data Research UK MR/S00310X/1).
RB is funded in part by the King’s College London UK Medical Research Council (MRC) Skills Development Fellowship programme (MR/R016372/1) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London (SLAM-KCL; IS-BRC-1215-20018).
AF is supported by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at SLAM-KCL (IS-BRC-1215-20018) and the NIHR centre at University College London Hospitals.
RJBD is supported by Health Data Research UK; the BigData@Heart Consortium, funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative-2 Joint Undertaking (Grant No. 116074) under the European Union Horizon 2020 programme; the NIHR University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre; the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at SLAM-KCL.
KO’G is supported by an MRC Clinical Training Fellowship.
RZ is supported by a King’s Prize Fellowship.
AS is supported by a King’s Medical Research Trust studentship.
AMS is supported by the British Heart Foundation (CH/1999001/11735), the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London (IS-BRC-1215-20006), and the Fondation Leducq.
AP is partially supported by NIHR NF-SI-0617-10120.

This work was supported by the NIHR University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre Clinical and Research Informatics Unit; NIHR Health Informatics Collaborative; the Institute of Health Informatics at University College London; and Health Data Research UK. The manuscript represents independent research part-funded by the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at SLAM-KCL. The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

We thank all the clinicians managing the patients, the patient experts of the KERRI committee, AI4VBH, Professor Irene Higginson, Professor Alastair Baker, Professor Jules Wendon, Dan Persson and Damian Lewsley for their support.

Declaration of Interests

JTHT received research support and funding from InnovateUK, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, iRhythm Technologies, and holds shares <£5,000 in Glaxo Smithkline and Biogen.

Author Contributions

JTHT, RJBD, DMB, ZK, TS, AF conceived the study design
DMB, ZK, AS, TS, JTHT, LR, KN performed data processing and software development
KOG, RZ, JTHT performed data validation
DMB, AP, RB performed statistical analysis
JTHT, DMB, ZK, TS, AF, RJBD, AMS performed critical review
JTHT, RJBD, DMB, AMS, ZK, TS, AF, DMB, AP, RB wrote the manuscript

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  12. Bean DM, Teo J, Wu H, Oliveira R, Patel R, Bendayan R, Shah AM, Dobson RJB, Scott PA. Semantic computational analysis of anticoagulation use in atrial fibrillation from real world data. PLoS One 2019;14:e0225625.
  13. Kraljevic Z, Bean D, Mascio A, Roguski L, Folarin A, Roberts A, Bendayan R, Dobson R. MedCAT — Medical Concept Annotation Tool. arXiv [cs.CL]. 2019.
  14. Searle T, Kraljevic Z, Bendayan R, Bean D, Dobson R. MedCATTrainer: A Biomedical Free Text Annotation Interface with Active Learning and Research Use Case Specific Customisation. Proceedings of the 2019 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing and the 9th International Joint Conference on Natural Language Processing (EMNLP-IJCNLP): System Demonstrations Stroudsburg, PA, USA: Association for Computational Linguistics; 2019. p. 139–144.
  15. Johnson AEW, Pollard TJ, Shen L, Lehman L-WH, Feng M, Ghassemi M, Moody B, Szolovits P, Celi LA, Mark RG. MIMIC-III, a freely accessible critical care database. Sci Data 2016;3:160035.
  16. Linden A, Mathur MB, VanderWeele TJ. Conducting sensitivity analysis for unmeasured confounding in observational studies using E-values: The evalue package. Stata J 2020;20:162–175.
  17. Li J, Wang X, Chen J, Zhang H, Deng A. Association of Renin-Angiotensin System Inhibitors With Severity or Risk of Death in Patients With Hypertension Hospitalized for Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Infection in Wuhan, China. JAMA Cardiol 2020;Apr 23. doi: 10.1001/jamacardio.2020.1624.
  18. Zhang P, Zhu L, Cai J, Lei F, Qin J-J, Xie J, Liu Y-M, Zhao Y-C, Huang X, Lin L, Xia M, Chen M-M, Cheng X, Zhang X, Guo D, Peng Y, Ji Y-X, Chen J, She Z-G, Wang Y, Xu Q, Tan R, Wang H, Lin J, Luo P, Fu S, Cai H, Ye P, Xiao B, Mao W, et al. Association of Inpatient Use of Angiotensin Converting Enzyme Inhibitors and Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers with Mortality Among Patients With Hypertension Hospitalized With COVID-19. Circ Res 2020; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.120.317134
  19. Julius S, Alderman MH, Beevers G, Dahlöf B, Devereux RB, Douglas JG, Edelman JM, Harris KE, Kjeldsen SE, Nesbitt S, Randall OS, Wright JT Jr. Cardiovascular risk reduction in hypertensive black patients with left ventricular hypertrophy: the LIFE study. J Am Coll Cardiol 2004;43:1047–1055.
  20. Taylor AL, Wright JT Jr. Should ethnicity serve as the basis for clinical trial design? Importance of race/ethnicity in clinical trials: lessons from the African-American Heart Failure Trial (A-HeFT), the African-American Study of Kidney Disease and Hypertension (AASK), and the Antihypertensive and Lipid-Lowering Treatment to Prevent Heart Attack Trial (ALLHAT). Circulation 2005;112:3654–3660.
  21. Simone GD. Position Statement of the ESC Council on Hypertension on ACE-Inhibitors and Angiotensin Receptor Blockers. 2020. https://www.escardio.org/Councils/Council-on-Hypertension-(CHT)/News/position-statement-of-the-esc-council-on-hypertension-on-ace-inhibitors-and-ang (28 March 2020)

Figure Legends

Figure 1. Distribution of disorders between patients achieving the primary outcome (Death or Critical Care admission) and those not achieving it by 21 days after symptom onset. The percentage of patients that have a positive mention of a disorder in each of the two groups is shown. All diseases were extracted from free-text using Cogstack and MedCAT. Only medical concept annotations with F1 > 80% and more than 10 annotated samples are shown. Disease names that start “Any: ” are aggregate concepts for multiple specific conditions that are used in our analysis.

Figure 2. Performance of the CogStack and MedCAT NLP pipeline in detecting disease mentions within the electronic health record text. Precision (P), Recall (R) and F1 (harmonic mean of precision and recall). Only medical concept annotations with F1 > 80% and more than 10 annotated samples are shown. Disease names that start “Any: ” are aggregate concepts for multiple specific conditions that are used in our analysis.

Figure 3. Kaplan-Meier Curves for the primary endpoint in COVID19 patients on chronic treatment with ACE-inhibitors (ACEi) or Angiotensin-II Receptor Blockers (ARB) (blue line) versus those not on these drugs (orange line). The unadjusted Odds Ratio (OR) for the primary endpoint for those on ACEi/ARB was 0.83 (p =0.16); the adjusted OR was 0.63 (p<0.01).

Tables




Figure 1. The percentage of patients that have a positive mention of a disorder in each of the two groups (Dead or Critical Care, Other).

Dead or Critical Care – patients that had died or were admitted to the Critical Care Unit; and Other – patients that were alive and had not been admitted to the Critical Care by day 21. All diseases were extracted from free-text using Cogstack and MedCAT. Only medical concept annotations with F1 > 80% and more than 10 annotated samples are shown. Disease names that start “Any: ” are aggregate concepts for multiple specific conditions that are used in our analysis.


Figure 2. Performance of the CogStack and MedCAT NLP pipeline in detecting disease mentions within the electronic health record text.

Precision (P), Recall (R) and F1 (harmonic mean of precision and recall). Only medical concept annotations with F1 > 80% and more than 10 annotated samples are shown. Disease names that start “Any: ” are aggregate concepts for multiple specific conditions that are used in our analysis.


Figure 3. Kaplan-Meier Curves for the primary endpoint in COVID19 patients on chronic treatment with ACE-inhibitors (ACEi) or Angiotensin-II Receptor Blockers (ARB) (blue line) versus those not on these drugs (orange line).

The unadjusted Odds Ratio (OR) for the primary endpoint for those on ACEi/ARB was 0.83 (p =0.16); the adjusted OR was 0.63 (p<0.01).

Supplementary files


Impact of ethnicity on outcome of severe COVID-19 infection. Data from an ethnically diverse UK tertiary centre

First online: 13-05-2020 | Last update: 25-05-2020 (Version 4)

Authors
James T Teo1,2,*, Daniel Bean3,4,*, Rebecca Bendeyan3,5, Richard Dobson3,4,5#, Ajay Shah1,6#

*Joint First Authors
#Joint corresponding authors: Ajay M Shah (ajay.shah@kcl.ac.uk); Richard JB Dobson (richard.j.dobson@kcl.ac.uk)

Affiliations

  1. King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, U.K.
  2. Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, U.K.
  3. Department of Biostatistics and Health Informatics, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, U.K.
  4. Health Data Research UK London, Institute of Health Informatics, University College London, London, U.K.
  5. NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, London, U.K.
  6. School of Cardiovascular Medicine & Sciences, King’s College London British Heart Foundation Centre of Excellence, London, U.K.

Citation

Teo, James, et al. “Impact of ethnicity on outcome of severe COVID-19 infection. Data from an ethnically diverse UK tertiary centre” medRxiv 2020.05.02.20078642. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.02.20078642

Abstract

During the current COVID-19 pandemic, it has been suggested that BAME background patients may be disproportionately affected compared to White but few detailed data are available. We took advantage of near real-time hospital data access and analysis pipelines to look at the impact of ethnicity in 1200 consecutive patients admitted between 1st March 2020 and 12th May 2020 to King’s College Hospital NHS Trust in London (UK).
Our key findings are firstly that BAME patients are significantly younger and have different co-morbidity profiles than White individuals. Secondly, there is no significant independent effect of ethnicity on severe outcomes (death or ITU admission) within 14-days of symptom onset, after adjustment for age, sex and comorbidities.

Introduction

As the Covid-19 pandemic extends from ethnically homogeneous countries in East Asia to multicultural populations in Europe and North America, anecdotal reports suggest a higher disease burden in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups1. Early UK audit data on COVID-19 indicate a higher proportion of BAME patients on critical care units than previous years but do not establish whether disease outcome is worse than in White patients or the factors underlying any disparity2.

Methods

This project operated under London South East Research Ethics Committee approval (reference 18/LO/2048) granted to the King’s Electronic Records Research Interface (KERRI). Specific work on COVID19 research was reviewed with expert patient input on a virtual committee with Caldicott Guardian oversight.

We evaluated the effect of ethnicity on disease outcomes in a consecutive cohort of 1200 patients admitted with COVID-19 disease to King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust from 1st March 2020 to 12th May 2020. This multi-site tertiary centre in South East London serves an ethnically diverse population: approximately 30% of residents identify as BAME in the immediate vicinity of the largest site (boroughs of Southwark and Lambeth) and ~12% near the Bromley site3.

We used an informatics pipeline previously described for evaluating ACE-inhibitor risk in patients with COVID-19 disease4. The primary endpoint was death (WHO-COVID-19 Outcomes Scale 8) or admission to critical care (WHO-COVID-19 Outcomes Scale 6-7) by 14 days after symptom onset. Self-assigned ethnicity is reported according to UK census categories.

Results

The distribution of self-identified ethnicity among patients is shown in Table 1. 30.7% of patients were BAME. BAME patients (84% Black) had a significantly higher prevalence of diabetes and hypertension but were significantly younger than White patients (Table 2, Figure 1). The prevalence of ischaemic heart disease (IHD) and heart failure tended to be lower in BAME compared to White patients. The incidence of the primary end-point by 21 days after symptom onset and Kaplan-Meier curves were similar between White and BAME patients (Figure 2).

We tested whether BAME ethnicity was independently associated with the incidence of the primary outcome but did not find a significant statistical association in a series of multivariate logistic regression models adjusted for age, sex and comorbidities (hypertension, diabetes, ischaemic heart disease/ heart failure) – Table 3. Increasing age and male sex were associated with an increased likelihood of the primary outcome.

This study in a series of 1200 patients hospitalised with COVID-19 disease in London (United Kingdom) indicates large ethnicity-related differences in age and comorbidities. Patients of BAME origin who require admission for COVID-19 are significantly younger than White patients from the same geographical area and have a significant higher burden of diabetes and hypertension. We did not identify an independent impact of ethnicity on the severity of in-hospital outcome after admission. Our BAME patients were predominantly Black and the results may not apply to other ethnicities. Further studies are required to establish the reasons underlying the ethnicity-related differences in number and profile of patients who require hospitalisation for COVID-19 disease.

References:

  1. Croxford R. Ethnic minorities ‘a third’ of Covid-19 patients. BBC. 2020; published online April 12. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-52255863 (accessed April 17, 2020).
  2. Intensive Care National Audit & Research Centre (ICNARC). Report on 3883 patients critically ill with COVID-19; published online April 4 2020. https://www.icnarc.org/DataServices/Attachments/Download/c31dd38d-d77b-ea11-9124-00505601089b (accessed April 17, 2020)
  3. Public Health England (PHE). Public Health Profiles. https://fingertips.phe.org.uk/search/ethnicity#page/0/gid/1/pat/6/par/E12000007/ati/101/are/E09000022/cid/4/page-options/ovw-tdo-0 (accessed April 17, 2020).
  4. Bean D, Kraljevic Z, Searle T, et al. Treatment with ACE-inhibitors is associated with less severe disease with SARS-Covid-19 infection in a multi-site UK acute Hospital Trust. medRxiv 2020; :2020.04.07.20056788.
  5. Firth D. Bias reduction of maximum likelihood estimates. Biometrika 1993; 80: 27–38.

Acknowledgements:

DMB is funded by a UKRI Innovation Fellowship as part of Health Data Research UK MR/S00310X/1 (https://www.hdruk.ac.uk).
RB is funded in part by grant MR/R016372/1 for the King’s College London MRC Skills Development Fellowship programme funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC, https://mrc.ukri.org) and by grant IS-BRC-1215-20018 for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR, https://www.nihr.ac.uk) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.
RJBD is supported by Health Data Research UK; The BigData@Heart Consortium, European Union’s Horizon 2020 grant agreement No. 116074; The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre and the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.
AMS is supported by the British Heart Foundation (CH/1999001/11735), the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London (IS-BRC-1215-20006), and the Fondation Leducq.

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care.

We thank all the clinicians managing the patients, the patient experts of the KERRI committee, Professor Irene Higginson, Professor Alastair Baker and Professor Jules Wendon for their support.

Declaration of Interests:

JTHT received research support and funding from InnovateUK, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, iRhythm Technologies, and holds shares <£5,000 in Glaxo Smithkline and Biogen.


Figure 1. Key demographics by Ethnicity.

a) Rate of male sex, hypertension, diabetes, ischaemic heart disease or heart failure and primary endpoint. b) Distribution of age in years. In both, blue = BAME ethnicity, orange = White ethnicity. BAME = Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic, IHD = ischaemic heart disease, HF = heart failure. Asterisks indicate significance; * = p < 0.05, ** = p < 0.01, *** = p < 0.001, all others not significant (p ≥ 0.05).


Figure 2. Kaplan-Meier survival curves for patients of BAME ethnicity (blue) or White ethnicity (orange).

Note “survival” here indicates “did not reach primary end-point”.




Evaluation and Improvement of the National Early Warning Score (NEWS2) for COVID-19: a multi-hospital study

Adding common blood and physiological parameters to NEWS2 can improve risk stratification for severe COVID-19 outcome.

First online: 29-04-2020 | Last update: 11-06-2020 (Version 3)

Authors
Ewan Carr*1, Rebecca Bendayan*1,2, Daniel Bean1,3, Matt Stammers4,5, Wenjuan Wang6, Huayu Zhang7, Thomas Searle1,2, Zeljko Kraljevic1, Anthony Shek8, Hang T T Phan4,5, Walter Muruet6, Anthony J Shinton9, Ting Shi7, Xin Zhang10, Andrew Pickles1,2, Daniel Stahl1, Rosita Zakeri11,12, Kevin O’Gallagher11,12, Amos Folarin1,3,13,14, Lukasz Roguski3,13,14, Florina Borca4,5,9, James Batchelor5, Xiaodong Wu15,16, Jiaxing Sun15, Ashwin Pinto9, Bruce Guthrie7, Cormac Breen6, Abdel Douiri6, Honghan Wu3,13, Vasa Curcin6, James T Teo8,11#, Ajay M Shah9,11#, Richard JB Dobson1,2,3,13,14#

* Joint First Author
# Joint Last Author

Corresponding author: Dr Ewan Carr, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), 16 De Crespigny Park, London, SE5 8AF, +44 (0)20 7848 0304.
Email: ewan.carr@kcl.ac.uk; Telephone: +44 (0)20 7848 0304

Affiliations

  1. Department of Biostatistics and Health Informatics, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, U.K.
  2. NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, London, U.K.
  3. Health Data Research UK London, University College London, London, U.K.
  4. Clinical Informatics Research Unit, University of Southampton, Coxford Rd, Southampton, U.K.
  5. NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, Coxford Rd, Southampton, U.K.
  6. School of Population Health and Environmental Sciences, King’s College London, London, U.K.
  7. Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, U.K.
  8. Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, U.K.
  9. UHS Digital, University Hospital Southampton, Tremona Road, Southampton, U.K.
  10. Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, People’s Liberation Army Joint Logistic Support Force 920th Hospital, Yunnan, China.
  11. King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, U.K.
  12. School of Cardiovascular Medicine & Sciences, King’s College London British Heart Foundation Centre of Excellence, London, U.K.
  13. Institute of Health Informatics, University College London, London, U.K.
  14. NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, London, U.K.
  15. Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Shanghai East Hospital, Tongji University, Shanghai, China.
  16. Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Taikang Tongji Hospital, Wuhan, China.

Citation

Carr, Ewan, et al. “Evaluation and Improvement of the National Early Warning Score (NEWS2) for COVID-19: a multi-hospital study.” medRxiv 2020.04.24.20078006. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.24.20078006

Objectives:
To evaluate the National Early Warning Score (NEWS2), currently recommended in the UK for risk-stratification of severe COVID-19 outcomes, and subsequently identify and validate a minimal set of common parameters taken at hospital admission that improve the score.

Design:
Retrospective observational cohort with internal and multi-hospital external validation.

Setting:
Secondary care.

Intervention:
Not applicable

Participants:
Training and temporal external validation cohorts comprised 1464 patients admitted to King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (KCH) with COVID-19 disease from 1st March to 30th April 2020. External validation cohorts included 3869 patients from two UK NHS Trusts (Guys and St Thomas’ Hospitals, GSTT and University Hospitals Southampton, UHS) and two hospitals in Wuhan, China (Wuhan Sixth Hospital and Taikang Tongji Hospital).

Main outcome and measures:
The primary outcome was patient status at 14 days after symptom onset categorised as severe disease (transferred to intensive care unit or death). Age, physiological measures, blood biomarkers, sex, ethnicity and comorbidities (hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular, respiratory and kidney diseases) were included.

Results:
NEWS2 score on admission was a weak predictor of severe COVID-19 infection (AUC = 0.628). Adding age and common blood tests (CRP, neutrophil count, estimated GFR and albumin) provided substantial improvements to a risk stratification model, particularly in relation to sensitivity, but performance was only moderate (AUC = 0.753).
Improvement over NEWS2 remained robust and generalisable in GSTT
(AUC = 0.817), UHS (AUC = 0.835) and Wuhan hospitals (AUC = 0.918).

Conclusions:
Adding age and a minimal set of blood parameters to NEWS2 improves the detection of patients likely to develop severe COVID-19 outcomes. This finding was replicated across NHS and non-UK hospitals. Adding a few common parameters to a pre-existing acuity score allows rapid and easy implementation of this risk-scoring system.

Keywords:
NEWS2 score, Blood parameters, COVID-19, prediction model.

KEY MESSAGES

  • The National Early Warning Score (NEWS2), currently recommended for severe COVID-19 disease in the UK shows overall poor discrimination for severe outcomes (transfer to ICU or death). It can be improved by the addition of a small number of blood and physiological parameters routinely measured at hospital admission.
  • The addition of age and a minimal set of common blood tests (C-reactive protein, neutrophil count, estimated GFR and albumin) provided substantial improvements in a risk stratification model.
  • Although predictive performance varied from hospital to hospital, the improvement over NEWS2 alone was consistent across different patient cohorts.
  • The proposed addition of a limited number of dichotomised parameters is easily derived from a pre-existing acuity score would be substantially easier to implement in a short- time scale compared to novel high-dimensional risk-scoring systems.

INTRODUCTION

As of 7th June 2020, there have been >6.7 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 disease worldwide[1]. While approximately 80% of infected individuals have mild or no symptoms[2], some develop severe COVID-19 disease requiring hospital admission. Within the subset of those requiring hospitalisation, early identification of those who deteriorate and require transfer to an intensive care unit (ICU) for organ support or may die is vital.

Currently available risk scores for deterioration of acutely-ill patients include (1) widely-used generic ward-based risk indices such as the National Early Warning Score (NEWS2)[3] or modified sequential organ failure assessment (mSOFA)[4]; and (2) the pneumonia-specific risk index, CURB-65[5] which usefully captures a combination of physiological observations with limited blood markers and comorbidities.

NEWS2 is a summary score of six physiological parameters or ‘vital signs’ (respiratory rate, oxygen saturation, systolic blood pressure, heart rate, level of consciousness, temperature and supplemental oxygen dependency), used to identify patients at risk of early clinical deterioration in the United Kingdom (UK) NHS hospitals[6,7] and primary care. The physiological parameters assessed in the NEWS2 score – particularly patient temperature, oxygen saturations and the supplemental oxygen dependency – have been associated with COVID-19 outcomes[2]; however, little is known about their predictive value for the severity of COVID-19 disease[8].

Additionally, a number of COVID-19-specific risk indices are being developed[9–11] as well as unvalidated online calculators[12] but generalisability is unknown[11]. A Chinese study has suggested a modified version of NEWS2 with addition of age only[13] but without any data on performance. With near universal usage of NEWS2 in UK NHS Trusts since March 2019[14], minor adaptation to NEWS2 is relatively easy to implement.

As the SARS-Cov2 pandemic has progressed, evidence has emerged regarding potentially useful blood biomarkers[1,15–18]. Although most of these early reports contain data from small numbers of patients, several markers have been found to be associated with severity. These include neutrophilia and lymphopenia, particularly in older adults[10,17,19,20], neutrophil-to- lymphocyte ratio[21], C-reactive Protein (CRP) and lymphocyte-to-CRP ratio[21], markers of liver and cardiac injury such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT), aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and cardiac troponin[22] and elevated D-dimers, ferritin and fibrinogen[2,5,7].

Our aim was to evaluate the NEWS2 score and then identify a minimal combination of clinical and blood biomarkers routinely measured in hospitals to supplement the acuity score to allow medium-term stratification for risk of a severe disease outcome at 14 days from symptom onset. Our specific objectives were:

  1. To explore independent associations of routinely measured physiological and blood parameters (including NEWS2 parameters) at or near hospital admission with disease severity (ICU admission or death at 14 days since symptom onset), adjusting for demographics and comorbidities;
  2. To examine which minimal combination of these potential determinants of disease severity (physiological and blood parameters, sociodemographics and comorbidities) are the best predictors of disease severity; and
  3. To compare the predictive value of the resulting model with a model based on the NEWS2 total score alone.

METHODS

Study cohorts

The KCH training cohort (n=439) was defined as all adult inpatients testing positive for SARS- Cov2 by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) between 1st March to 31st March 2020 at two acute hospitals (King’s College Hospital and Princess Royal University Hospital) in South East London (UK) of Kings College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (KCH). All patients included in the study had symptoms consistent with COVID-19 (e.g. cough, fever, dyspnoea, myalgia, delirium, diarrhoea). For validation purposes, the following cohorts were used:

  1. External temporal hold-out at KCH of 1025 cases (1st April to 30th April 2020)
  2. External validation cohort at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital NHS Foundation Trust (GSTT) of 1417 cases (3rd March 2020 to 21st May 2020)
  3. External validation cohort at University Hospitals Southampton NHS Foundation Trust (UHS) of 564 cases (7th March to 20th May 2020)
  4. External validation cohort at Wuhan Sixth Hospital and Taikang Tongji Hospital totalling 1888 cases (4th February to 30th March 2020)

The KCH component of the project operated under London South East Research Ethics Committee (reference 18/LO/2048) approval granted to the King’s Electronic Records Research Interface (KERRI); specific work on COVID-19 research was reviewed with expert patient input on a virtual committee with Caldicott Guardian oversight. The UHS validation was performed as part of a service evaluation agreed with approval from trust research leads and the Caldicott Guardian. Ethical approval for GSTT was granted by The London Bromley Research Ethics Committee (reference 20/HRA/1871) to the King’s Health Partners Data Analytics and Modelling COVID-19 Group to collect clinically relevant data points from patient’s electronic health records. The Wuhan validation was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of Shanghai Dongfang Hospital and Taikang Tongji Hospital.

Data Processing

King’s College Hospital

Data was extracted from the structured and unstructured components of the electronic health record (EHR) using natural language processing (NLP) tools belonging to the CogStack ecosystem[23], namely MedCAT[24] and MedCATTrainer[25]. The CogStack NLP pipeline captures negation, synonyms, and acronyms for medical SNOMED-CT concepts as well as surrounding linguistic context using deep learning and long short-term memory networks.
MedCAT produces unsupervised annotations for all SNOMED-CT concepts (Supplementary Table 1) under parent terms Clinical Finding, Disorder, Organism, and Event with disambiguation, pre-trained on MIMIC-III[26].

Starting from our previous model[27], further supervised training improved detection of annotations and meta-annotations such as experiencer (is the concept annotated experienced by the patient or other), negation (is the concept annotated negated or not) and temporality (is the concept annotated in the past or present) with MedCATTrainer. Meta-annotations for hypothetical, historical and experiencer were merged into “Irrelevant” allowing us to exclude any mentions of a concept that do not directly relate to the patient currently. Performance of the NLP pipeline for comorbidities mentioned in the text was evaluated on 4343 annotations in 146 clinical documents by a clinician (JT). F1 scores, precision, and recall are presented in Supplementary Table 2.

Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust (GSTT)

Electronic health records from all patients admitted to Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust who had a positive COVID-19 test result between the 3rd of March and 21st of May 2020, inclusive, were identified. Data were extracted using structured queries from six complementary platforms and linked using unique patient identifiers. Data processing was performed using Python 3.7. The process and outputs were reviewed by a study clinician.

University Hospitals Southampton (UHS)

Data were extracted from the structured components of the UHS CHARTS EHR system and data warehouse. Data was transformed to the required format for validation purposes using Python 3.7. Diagnosis and comorbidity data of interest were gathered from ICD-10 coded data. No unstructured data extraction was required for validation purposes. The process and outputs were reviewed by an experienced clinician prior to analysis.

Wuhan cohort

Demographic, premorbid conditions, clinical symptoms or signs at presentation, laboratory data, treatment and outcome data were extracted from electronic medical records using a standardised data collection form by a team of experienced respiratory clinicians, with double data checking and involvement of a third reviewer where there was disagreement. Anonymised data was entered into a password-protected computerised database.

Measures

Outcome. For all sites, the primary outcome was patient status at 14 days after the index date, categorised as transfer to ICU/death (WHO-COVID-19 Outcomes Scales 6-8) vs. not ICU/death (Scales 3-5). For KCH, the index date was symptom onset (or hospital admission where symptom onset was missing) and dates of symptom onset, ICU transfer, and death were ascertained and verified manually by a clinician. For GSTT and UHS, the index date was the date of diagnosis (positive SARS-CoV-2 RT-PCR) minus 4 days because symptom onset was not available. For the Wuhan cohort, the index date was the date of admission minus 4 days.

Blood parameters. We focused on biomarkers that were routinely obtained at or shortly after admission and were therefore available for the vast majority of patients. These comprised: albumin (g/L), alanine aminotransferase (ALT; IU/L), creatinine (µmol/L), C-reactive protein (CRP; mg/L), estimated Glomerular Filtration Rate (eGFR; mL/min), Haemoglobin (g/L), lymphocyte count (x 109/L), neutrophil count (x 109/L), and platelet count (PLT; x 109/L). We also derived the neutrophil-to-lymphocyte ratio (NLR) and the lymphocyte-to-CRP ratio[21]. Troponin-T (ng/L) and Ferritin (ug/L) were included, although these measures were only available for a subset of participants. D-dimers and HbA1c were excluded since they were measured in very few patients at admission and insufficient samples were available for analysis.

Physiological parameters. We included the NEWS2 total score as well as the following parameters measured separately: respiratory rate (breaths per minute), oxygen saturation (%), systolic blood pressure (mmHg), heart rate (beats/min), temperature (°C), and consciousness (Glasgow Coma Scale; GCS). All were measured at or shortly after admission. Diastolic blood pressure was also included.

Demographics and comorbidities. Age, sex, ethnicity and comorbidities were considered. Self- defined ethnicity was categorised as caucasian vs. BAME (Black, Asian and minority ethnic) and patients with ethnicity reported as ‘unknown/mixed/other’ were excluded. Binary variables were derived for comorbidities: hypertension, diabetes, heart disease (heart failure and ischemic heart disease), respiratory disease (asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD) and chronic kidney disease.

Statistical analyses

All parameters were scaled (mean 0; standard deviation = 1) to facilitate interpretability and logarithmic or square-root transformations were applied to skewed parameters. Outlying high values for some blood parameters were retained after clinical examination to ascertain plausibility. To explore independent associations of physiological and blood parameters with 14-day death/ICU (Objective 1) we used logistic regression with Firth’s bias reduction method[28]. Each parameter was tested independently, adjusted for age and sex (Model 1) and then additionally adjusted for comorbidities (Model 2). P-values were adjusted using the Benjamini-Hochberg procedure to keep the False Discovery Rate (FDR) at 5%[29]. These models were conducted with R 4.0[30] using the logistf[31] package.

To investigate which panel of parameters performed best in predicting the 14-day outcome over and above NEWS2 we used a regularized logistic regression with a LASSO (Least Absolute Shrinkage and Selection Operator) estimator which shrinks parameters according to their variance, reduces overfitting and enables automatic variable selection[32]. The optimal degree of regularization was determined by identifying a tuning parameter λ using cross-validation[33].

From an initial model with NEWS2 total score only, sets of features were added in order of (i) age and sex; (ii) blood/physiological parameters; and (iii) comorbidities. To estimate the predictive performance of our model on new cases of the same underlying population, we performed internal nested cross-validation (10 folds/20 repeats for inner loop; 10 folds/100 repeats for outer loop). Overall discrimination was assessed based on the area under the curve (AUC). To impute missing features we used k-Nearest Neighbours imputation (k=5). Scaling and kNN imputation were incorporated within the model development and selection process to avoid data leakage which would otherwise result in optimistic performance measures[34].

The predictive performance of the derived regularized logistic regression model was then evaluated using temporal external validation[35] on a hold-out sample of 1025 patients admitted to KCH after the training sample (Supplementary Figure 1) as well as external validation samples from GSTT (n=1417), UHS (n=564), and Wuhan (n=1888). Validation used logistic regression models trained on the KCH training sample, with code and pre-trained models shared via GitHub. All procedures were identical to those used during training, including scaling and imputation. Performance was assessed using AUC, sensitivity, specificity, positive predictive value (PPV) and negative predictive value (NPV). Model calibration was assessed using a calibration plot (model predicted probability vs. true probability). These models were estimated in Python 3.8[36] using Scikit-Learn[37].

For ease-of-use in a clinical setting, two further models were estimated: (1) A model (NEWS2 + CoV) that supplemented NEWS2 with five of the most important features chosen based on internal validation and data completeness; (2) A threshold model, derived by dichotomising each feature from the NEWS2 + CoV model. Thresholds were defined using a decision tree model tuned on the training sample.

To ensure robust results, we explored whether predictive performance could be improved using a more complex approach such as gradient boosted trees as implemented in the XGBoost library[38]. Procedures were identical to those described above, except the imputation step was not required. Additional sensitivity analyses were performed to account for potential demographic variability. Following recent studies suggesting sex differences in COVID outcome[17] we tested interactions between each physiological and blood parameter and sex using likelihood-ratio tests. We also repeated all models with adjustment for ethnicity in the subset of individuals with available data for ethnicity (n=276 in KCH training sample).

RESULTS

The KCH training cohort comprised 439 inpatients testing positive for COVID-19 (from 1st March to 31st March 2020) of whom 155 (35%) were transferred to ICU or died (COVID-19 WHO Score 6-8) within 14 days of symptom onset. Table 1 describes the clinical characteristics of the cohort. Patients experiencing more severe outcomes were significantly older but there was no evidence of differences by sex or ethnicity. There were some differences between groups in the prevalence of comorbidities but these did not reach statistical significance after correction for multiple testing. At admission, patients who had transferred to ICU or died within 14 days had lower levels of Albumin and estimated GFR; and elevated levels of CRP, creatinine, ferritin, neutrophils, and neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio. Median NEWS2 total scores were significantly higher in patients who transferred to ICU or died (3 vs 2; p < 0.001), compared to patients experiencing less severe outcomes. Characteristics of validation cohorts from GSTT, UHS, and Wuhan are described in Supplementary Table 3. There were fewer BAME minorities in UHS (compared to KCH) and a much lower proportion of severe cases in Wuhan hospitals (3% vs. 25- 35% in UK sites).


Logistic regression models were used to assess independent associations between each physiological and blood parameter and disease severity (Supplementary Table 4). Transfer to ICU/death was associated with higher NEWS2 total score, CRP, heart rate, neutrophil count, neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio, respiration rate; and lower lymphocyte/CRP ratios, Albumin, estimated GFR, creatinine, and oxygen saturation. These associations remained after adjustment for age, sex and comorbidities. Sensitivity analyses showed no evidence of differences by sex and findings were consistent when additionally adjusting for ethnicity in the subset of individuals with ethnicity data (Supplementary Table 5).

Supplementing NEWS2 with a minimal set of routinely collected blood and physiological parameters to improve NEWS2 to improve prediction of 14-day outcome

We included all predictors in a combined logistic regression model using LASSO regularisation. Internally validated predictive performance is presented in Table 2. The baseline model with only NEWS2 showed poor discrimination with an AUC of 0.628. Adding age, sex, and all blood and physiological parameters increased the AUC by 0.114, to 0.742 (+/- 2SD: 0.735, 0.750).

Performance was not improved when comorbidities were included in this model. A final model (NEWS2 + CoV) was estimated including NEWS2 and the top five most important features.

This simpler model resulted in a slightly larger AUC of 0.753 (+/- 2SD: 0.739, 0.768) which may indicate some overfitting due to the pre-selection of variables from previous analyses. Results were consistent when repeating these models in the subset of patients with information available on ethnicity (Supplementary Table 6).


Figure 1 summarises feature importances from LASSO logistic regression models fitted to the KCH training sample. When adding demographic, blood, and physiological parameters to NEWS2 (NEWS2 + DBP) eight features were retained, in order of effect size: NEWS2 total score, CRP, estimated GFR, neutrophils, albumin, age, Troponin T, and oxygen saturation. Notably, comorbid conditions were not retained when added in subsequent models (NEWS2 + DBPC), suggesting most of the variance was already captured by the top five parameters.

        Figure 1: Feature importances from LASSO logistic regression in KCH training sample (n=439)

Notes.​ Feature importances refer to absolute values of standardised coefficients from logistic regression, sorted by effect size in model ‘NEWS2 + DBP’. Where a feature is labelled on the y-axis, it was entered into the model. Features retained following LASSO regularisation are represented by a coloured bar; the absence of a bar indicates that this feature was omitted during regularisation.

When these models were repeated using a XGBoost[38] the pattern of results was consistent  with those from regularized logistic regression (Supplementary Table 7). The internally validated AUC improved from 0.647 (+/- 2SD: 0.631, 0.663) for a model with NEWS2 alone, to 0.731 (+/- 2SD: 0.706, 0.756) for the NEWS2 + CoV model. Importantly, while the pattern of results was consistent, a more complex machine learning estimator did not improve predictive performance.

Temporal external validation was conducted on a hold-out sample of 1025 KCH patients. This sample was similar to the training sample (Supplementary Table 3) except that the proportion who transferred to ICU or died was lower (35% vs 27%). For the hold-out sample, the AUC for NEWS2 alone was 0.665, and this improved to 0.761 for the simplified MEWS2 + CoV model comprising NEWS2 and the top five features (CRP, neutrophils, estimated GFR, albumin and age) (sensitivity = 0.624; specificity = 0.764) (Table 3). Calibration for these models (Supplementary Figure 2) was acceptable but suggested some overestimation of risk probabilities. Overall, results from the hold-out sample were consistent with those from internal validation.

Multi-site replication

When we replicated our trained models in GSTT (n=1417), UHS (n=564) and Wuhan (n=1888) we found our results to be robust despite changes in cohort characteristics (Table 3). In all sites, the supplemented NEWS2 model (NEWS2 + CoV) showed improved predictive performance over NEWS2 alone, with an average increase in AUC of 0.112. Furthermore, the threshold model showed similar performance across sites (Table 3). Details of the validation cohorts can be found on Supplementary Table 3. The code and pre-trained models used for replications is available at https://github.com/ewancarr/NEWS2-COVID-19 and can be tested in other datasets.


DISCUSSION

Principal findings

To our knowledge, this study is the first to systematically evaluate the UK NEWS2 acuity score in COVID-19 and attempt to improve performance of NEWS2 in multiple NHS Trusts. We found that the NEWS2 score shows overall poor discrimination with high specificity but poor sensitivity for severe outcomes (transfer to ICU or death). However, its value for risk stratification (especially sensitivity) can be improved by adding age and a small number of additional blood parameters (CRP, neutrophils, estimated GFR, and albumin). Several blood measures previously linked with severe outcomes – such as lymphocyte and ALT[13], or transformations of inflammatory markers such as CRP/lymphocyte or neutrophil/lymphocyte ratios – did not provide additional value. Pre-existing comorbidities did not improve risk prediction and were not retained in the final model. This was unexpected but may indicate that the effect of pre-existing health conditions is manifest through some of the included blood or physiological markers.

Comparison with other studies

A systematic review of 10 prediction models for mortality in COVID-19 infection[9] found broad similarities with the features retained in our models, particularly regarding CRP and neutrophil levels. However, existing prediction models suffer several methodological weaknesses including over-fitting, selection bias, and reliance on cross-sectional data without accounting for censoring. Additionally, many existing studies have relied on single centre studies or in ethnically homogenous Chinese cohorts, whereas this study shows validation in multiple organisations and diverse populations indicative of generalisability.

NEWS2 is a summary score derived from six physiological parameters, including oxygen supplementation (yes/no). Lack of evidence for NEWS2 use in COVID-19 especially in primary care has been highlighted[8]. The oxygen saturation component of physiological measurements added value beyond NEWS2 total score and was retained following regularisation (i.e. model NEWS2 + DBP). This suggests some residual association over and above what is captured by the NEWS2 score, and reinforces Royal College of Physicians guidance that the NEWS2 score ceilings with respect to respiratory function[39].

Cardiac disease and myocardial injury have been described in severe COVID-19 cases in China[1,22]. In our model, blood Troponin-T, a marker of myocardial injury, had additional salient signal but was only measured in a subset of our cohort at admission, so it was excluded from our final model. This could be explored further in larger datasets.

Strengths and limitations

Our study provides a risk stratification model for which we obtained generalisable and robust results across national and non-UK sites (total patients=5333) with differing geographical catchment and population characteristics. However, some limitations should be acknowledged. First, there are likely to be other parameters not measured in this study that could substantially improve the risk stratification model (e.g. radiological features or comorbidity load). This could be addressed by future work, but these parameters were not considered in the present study to avoid limiting the real-world implementation of the risk stratification model. Second, we used a 14-day time window from symptom onset to provide a balance between medium-term prognostication and actionable risk stratification at the usual period of deterioration. Longer timeframes may be useful for prognostication but are likely to be harder to generalise due to the greater number of factors affecting outcomes (e.g. institutional, regional or national policies).

Since NEWS2 score is optimised for very near-term deterioration at 24 hours[7], a 14-day window was used as a compromise. Thirdly, our models showed better performance in UK secondary care settings with populations with higher rates of severe disease after COVID-19 infection. Further research should be performed to investigate the suitability of our model for primary care settings with higher prevalence mild disease severities[8].

CONCLUSION

The simple addition of age and a limited number of blood parameters to the existing and widely implemented UK NEWS2 system can contribute to improved risk stratification among COVID-19 patients. This type of model can be easily implemented in clinical practice and predicted risk score probabilities of individual patients are easy to communicate. The additional parameters are routinely collected on patients at hospital admission, and with near universal usage of NEWS2 in NHS Trusts since March 2019[14], a minor adaptation to NEWS2 is substantially easier to implement in a variety of health settings than a bespoke risk score.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

DMB is funded by a UKRI Innovation Fellowship as part of Health Data Research UK MR/S00310X/1 (https://www.hdruk.ac.uk).

RB is funded in part by grant MR/R016372/1 for the King’s College London MRC Skills Development Fellowship programme funded by the UK Medical Research Council (MRC, https://mrc.ukri.org) and by grant IS-BRC-1215-20018 for the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR, https://www.nihr.ac.uk) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London.

RJBD is supported by: (1) NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, London, U.K. (2) Health Data Research UK, which is funded by the UK Medical Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Department of Health and Social Care (England), Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), British Heart Foundation and Wellcome Trust. (3) The BigData@Heart Consortium, funded by the Innovative Medicines Initiative-2 Joint Undertaking under grant agreement No. 116074. This Joint Undertaking receives support from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and EFPIA; it is chaired by DE Grobbee and SD Anker, partnering with 20 academic and industry partners and ESC. (4) The National Institute for Health Research University College London Hospitals Biomedical Research Centre. (5) National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. (5) The UK Research and Innovation London Medical Imaging & Artificial Intelligence Centre for Value Based Healthcare (6) the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration South London (NIHR ARC South London) at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

KO’G is supported by an MRC Clinical Training Fellowship (MR/R017751/1).

WW is supported by a Health Foundation grant.

AD and VC acknowledge support from National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) South London at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust and the Royal College of Physicians, as well as the support from the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre based at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. VC is additionally supported by Health Data Research UK, which is funded by the UK Medical Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Department of Health and Social Care (England), Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), British Heart Foundation and Wellcome Trust.

RZ is supported by a King’s Prize Fellowship.

AS is supported by a King’s Medical Research Trust studentship.

JTHT is supported by London AI Medical Imaging Centre for Value-Based Healthcare (AI4VBH) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Applied Research Collaboration South London (NIHR ARC South London) at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.

FB and PTTH are funded by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre, Data Sciences at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and the Clinical Informatics Research Unit, University of Southampton.

JB is funded by the Clinical Informatics Research Unit, University of Southampton, and part funded by the Global Alliance for Chronic Disease (GDAC).

AP is part funded by UHS Digital, University Hospital Southampton, Tremona Road, Southampton.

AJS is supported by a Digital Health Fellowship through Health Education England (Wessex).

HW and HZ are supported by Medical Research Council and Health Data Research UK Grant (MR/S004149/1), Industrial Strategy Challenge Grant (MC_PC_18029) and Wellcome Institutional Translation Partnership Award (PIII054).

XW is supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number 81700006).

AMS is supported by the British Heart Foundation (CH/1999001/11735), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London (IS-BRC-1215-20006), and the Fondation Leducq.

AP is partially supported by NIHR NF-SI-0617-10120. This work was supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) University College London Hospitals (UCLH) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) Clinical and Research Informatics Unit (CRIU), NIHR Health Informatics Collaborative (HIC), and by awards establishing the Institute of Health Informatics at University College London (UCL). This work was also supported by Health Data Research UK, which is funded by the UK Medical Research Council, Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, Economic and Social Research Council, Department of Health and Social Care (England), Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorates, Health and Social Care Research and Development Division (Welsh Government), Public Health Agency (Northern Ireland), British Heart Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

This paper represents independent research part-funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London AI Medical Imaging Centre for Value-Based Healthcare, and Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, both with King’s College London. The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript. We would also like to thank all the clinicians managing the patients, the patient experts of the KERRI committee, Professor Irene Higginson, Professor Alastair Baker, Professor Jules Wendon, Dan Persson and Damian Lewsley for their support.

The authors acknowledge use of the research computing facility at King’s College London, Rosalind (https://rosalind.kcl.ac.uk), which is delivered in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres at South London & Maudsley and Guy’s & St. Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trusts, and part-funded by capital equipment grants from the Maudsley Charity (award 980) and Guy’s & St. Thomas’ Charity (TR130505). The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, King’s College London, or the Department of Health and Social Care.

CONTRIBUTOR AND GUARANTOR INFORMATION

The corresponding author, Dr Ewan Carr, is guarantor of the manuscript.

JT, AS, RD, EC and RB conceived the study design and developed the study objectives. JT, RD, AF, LR, DB, ZK, TS and AS were the leads to develop CogStack platform. DB, ZK, TS, AS were responsible for the data extraction and preparation. EC, RB, AP, DS contributed to the statistical analyses. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the data. AS, JT, KO, RZ provided clinical input. All authors contributed to interpret the data, draft the article and provided final approval of the manuscript. DMB, ZK, AS, TS, JTHT, LR, KN performed data processing and software development; KOG, RZ, JTHT performed data validation.

At GSTT, WW and WM were responsible for the data extraction and preparation. WW performed the model validation. AD and VC contributed to the interpretation of the data.

At UHS, MS and FB were responsible for the data extraction and preparation. MS, HP and AS contributed to the statistical analysis. All authors contributed to the interpretation of the data. MS and AP provided clinical input. MS and HP performed data/model validation.

For the Wuhan cohort, XZ, XW and JS extracted the data from the EHR system. HW and HZ preprocessed the raw data and conducted the prediction model validations. BG, HW, HZ, TS and JS interpreted the data and results.

Disclaimer: The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the MRC, NHS, the NIHR or the Department of Health and Social Care. The funders of the study had no role in the study design, data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, writing of the report or the decision to submit the article for publication.

COPYRIGHT/LICENSE FOR PUBLICATION

The Corresponding Author has the right to grant on behalf of all authors and does grant on behalf of all authors, a worldwide licence to the Publishers and its licensees in perpetuity, in all forms, formats and media (whether known now or created in the future), to i) publish, reproduce, distribute, display and store the Contribution, ii) translate the Contribution into other languages, create adaptations, reprints, include within collections and create summaries, extracts and/or, abstracts of the Contribution, iii) create any other derivative work(s) based on the Contribution, iv) to exploit all subsidiary rights in the Contribution, v) the inclusion of electronic links from the Contribution to third party material where-ever it may be located; and, vi) licence any third party to do any or all of the above.

DATA SHARING

Code and pre-trained models are available at https://github.com/ewancarr/NEWS2-COVID-19 and openly shared for testing in other COVID datasets.

Source text from patient records used at all sites in the study will not be available due to inability to safely fully anonymise up to the Information Commissioner Office (ICO) standards and would be likely to contain strong identifiers (e.g. names, postcodes) and highly sensitive data (e.g. diagnoses).

A subset of the KCH dataset limited to anonymisable information (e.g. only SNOMED codes and aggregated demographics) is available on request to researchers with suitable training in information governance and human confidentiality protocols subject to approval by the King’s College Hospital Information Governance committee; applications for research access should be sent to kch-tr.cogstackrequests@nhs.net. This dataset cannot be released publicly due to the risk of re-identification of such granular individual level data, as determined by the King’s College Hospital Caldicott Guardian.

The GSTT dataset cannot be released publicly due to the risk of re-identification of such granular individual level data, as determined by the Guy’s and St. Thomas’s Trust Caldicott Guardian.

The UHS dataset cannot be released publicly due to the risk of re-identification of such granular individual level data, as determined by the University Hospital Southampton Caldicott Guardian.

The Wuhan dataset used in the study will not be available due to inability to fully anonymise in line with ethical requirements. Applications for research access should be sent to TS and details will be made available via https://covid.datahelps.life/prediction/.

PUBLIC AND PATIENT INVOLVEMENT STATEMENT AND ETHICS STATEMENT

This project operated under London South East Research Ethics Committee approval (reference 18/LO/2048) granted to the King’s Electronic Records Research Interface (KERRI). Given the current context, specific work on COVID19 research was reviewed with a virtually convened 4- expert patient panel input on a virtual committee with Caldicott Guardian oversight. In addition, the KERRI database used in this study was developed according to KCH use of data for research guidelines (https://www.kch.nhs.uk/research/use-of-data-for-research) and patient engagement groups for this dataset have been conducted in 2018-2019.

DISSEMINATION DECLARATION

Dissemination to study individual participants is not possible to protect anonymity. Dissemination to patient organisations and stakeholder groups is planned.

TRANSPARENCY DECLARATION

The lead author affirms that this manuscript is an honest, accurate, and transparent account of the study being reported; that no important aspects of the study have been omitted; and that any discrepancies from the study as planned (and, if relevant, registered) have been explained.

ROLE OF THE FUNDING SOURCE

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

COMPETING INTERESTS

JTHT received research support and funding from InnovateUK, Bristol-Myers-Squibb, iRhythm Technologies, and holds shares <£5,000 in Glaxo Smithkline and Biogen.

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SUPPLEMENTARY MATERIALS

        Supplementary Figure 1: Timing of 14-day endpoints for training (n=439; positive test between 1st and 31st March) and hold-out (n=1025; positive test between 1st April and 30th April) samples for KCH.

        Supplementary Figure 2: Calibration plot from temporal external validation (KCH; n=1025)








The effects of ARBs, ACEIs and statins on clinical outcomes of COVID-19 infection among nursing home residents

First online: 15-05-2020 | Last update: 18-05-2020 (Version 1)

Authors
Anton De Spiegeleer1,2,3*, Antoon Bronselaer4*, James T Teo5, Geert Byttebier6, Guy De Tré4, Luc Belmans7, Richard Dobson8, Evelien Wynendaele1, Christophe Van De Wiele9, Filip Vandaele10, Diemer Van Dijck11, Dan Bean8, David Fedson12 and Bart De Spiegeleer1**

* Equally contributed as first authors
** Corresponding author; e-mail: bart.despiegeleer@ugent.be

Affiliations

  1. Drug Quality and Registration group, Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Ghent University, Belgium.
  2. Department of Geriatrics, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University Hospital, Belgium.
  3. Unit for Molecular Immunology and Inflammation, VIB-Center for Inflammation Research, Belgium.
  4. DDCM lab, Department of Telecommunications and Information Processing, Faculty of Engineering and Architecture, Ghent University, Belgium.
  5. Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, UK.
  6. Bioconstat BV, Ghent, Belgium.
  7. Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University Hospital, Belgium.
  8. Department of Biostatistics and Health Informatics, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, UK.
  9. Department of Diagnostic Sciences, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Ghent University Hospital, Belgium.
  10. VZW Zorg-Saam Zusters Kindsheid Jesu, Ghent, Belgium.
  11. Corilus Health IT Center, Ghent, Belgium.
  12. Sergy Haut, France.

Citation

De Spiegeleer, Anton, et al. “The effects of ARBs, ACEIs and statins on clinical outcomes of COVID-19 infection among nursing home residents.” medRxiv 2020.05.11.20096347. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.05.11.20096347

Abstract

Background. COVID-19 infection has limited preventive or therapeutic drug options at this stage. Some of common existing drugs like angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEi), angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARB) and the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (‘statins’) have been hypothesised to impact on disease severity. However, up till now, no studies investigating this association were conducted in the most vulnerable and affected population groups, i.e. older people residing in nursing homes. The purpose of this study has been to explore the association of ACEi/ARB and/or statins with clinical manifestations in COVID-19 infected older people residing in nursing homes.

Methods and Findings. We undertook a retrospective multi-centre cohort study in two Belgian nursing homes that experienced similar COVID-19 outbreaks. COVID-19 diagnoses were based on clinical suspicion and/or viral presence using PCR of nasopharyngeal samples. A total of 154 COVID-19 positive subjects was identified. The outcomes were 1) serious COVID-19 defined as a long-stay hospital admission (length of stay ≥ 7 days) or death (at hospital or nursing home) within 14 days of disease onset, and 2) asymptomatic, i.e. no disease symptoms in the whole study-period while still being PCR diagnosed. Disease symptoms were defined as any COVID-19-related clinical symptom (e.g. coughing, dyspnoea, sore throat) or sign (low oxygen saturation and fever) for ≥ 2 days out of 3 consecutive days.

Logistic regression models with Firth corrections were applied on these 154 subjects to analyse the association between ACEi/ARB and/or statin use with the outcomes. Age, sex, functional status, diabetes and hypertension were used as covariates. Sensitivity analyses were conducted to evaluate the robustness of our statistical significant findings.

We found a statistically significant association between statin intake and the absence of symptoms during COVID-19 infection (unadjusted OR 2.91; CI 1.27-6.71; p=0.011), which remained statistically significant after adjusting for age, sex, functional status, diabetes mellitus and hypertension. The strength of this association was considerable and clinically important. Although the effects of statin intake on serious clinical outcome (long-stay hospitalisation or  death) were in the same beneficial direction, these were not statistically significant (OR 0.75; CI 0.25-1.85; p=0.556). There was also no statistically significant association between ACEi/ARB and asymptomatic status (OR 1.52; CI 0.62-3.50; p=0.339) or serious clinical outcome (OR 0.79; CI 0.26-1.95; p=0.629).

Conclusions. Our data indicate that statin intake in old, frail people could be associated with a considerable beneficial effect on COVID-19 related clinical symptoms. The role of statins and any interaction with renin-angiotensin system drugs need to be further explored in larger observational studies as well as randomised clinical trials.

Introduction

Patients with serious and fatal COVID-19 infections are characterised by pneumonia-associated acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)  and multi-organ failure. The underlying mechanisms are linked to an imbalance between  ACE  and  ACE2,  as well as endothelial dysfunction (1-3) (Figure 1). Animal experiments have indicated that ARBs, ACEis or statins can prevent experimentally induced ARDS (4). These drugs are also likely to counteract the effects of sepsis-associated coagulopathy, elevated pro-inflammatory cytokines (e.g. IL-6) and sepsis-associated effects on pulmonary vascular permeability (5-12).

In a non-COVID-19 context, clinical investigators have observed that pneumonia patients who had been taking statins, ARBs or ACEis had improved survival (13, 14). Moreover, recent observational studies have reported similar findings for hospitalized COVID-19 patients (15-19). Recently, randomized controlled clinical trials have begun to evaluate the clinical effects of ARB, ACEi or statin treatment in hospitalized COVID-19 patients (e.g. NCT04348695, NCT04343001, NCT04351581). However, the estimated completion dates for these trials will be some time in 2021, and most will only consider ARB/ACEi monotherapy, i.e. not in combination with statins.

To our knowledge, no ARB/ACEi/statin studies have been or are being conducted among elderly nursing home residents, the most vulnerable individuals for COVID-19 morbidity and mortality. In Belgium, a country with a well-developed health care system, 3000 residents of nursing homes have died from COVID-19, with still around 100 residents a day currently dying (20). Estimates for the US suggest that almost 20% of all COVID-19 deaths have occurred in long-term care centers (21). Thus, every day without effective therapy comes at a high human cost.

We aimed to replicate the hospital findings to a frail, high-risk population living in nursing homes. While we wait for the results of prospective clinical trials, our findings allow us to make suggestions about the use of ACEis/ARBs and statins for these COVID-19 patients.


Figure 1. Three mechanisms suggested for the effects of statins and ACEis/ARBs in preventing severe pulmonary disease in COVID-19

1) Under normal conditions the Tie-2 receptor is continuously activated by Angiopoetin-1 (Angpt-1), which in turn activates Akt-kinase, leading to phosphorylation and hence inhibition of the transcription factor Foxo1. Unphosphorylated or active Foxo1 initiates the transcription of genes leading to increased inflammation, decreased endothelial barrier integrity and hypercoagulability. Angpt-2 is a partial antagonist of the Tie-2 receptor, stimulating inflammation, endothelial dysfunction and hypercoagulability. COVID-19 infection and ARDS are associated with increased Angpt-2 levels in blood, while statins simulate the Angpt-1 pathways. 2) The RAS system activates angiotensin-1 receptors (AT1R), stimulating inflammation, hypercoagulability and endothelial permeability. The Ang II-ACE2-Ang(1-7)-Mas receptor pathway counteracts the effects of this RAS system. COVID-19 enters the cell through ACE2 receptors, thereby decreasing these membrane-bound receptors, and relatively stimulating the RAS system. ACEis/ARBs inhibit the RAS system, while concomitantly increasing ACE-2 expression, which protects against ARDS. Statins also increase ACE-2 expression. 3) In ARDS there is an increase in the activation of the MyD88-NFkB inflammatory pathway. Statins preserve MyD88 at normal levels and down regulate NFkB. Black lines = stimulating effects; red lines = inhibiting effects.

Methods

This retrospective study conformed with all legal guidelines and the protocol was approved by the Ethical Committee of the Ghent University Hospital (reference BC-07671).

Study design

The retrospective study cohort was defined as all (anonymised) residents at two elderly care homes with COVID-19 diagnosis based on clinical grounds and/or PCR lab testing from 1st  of March to 16th  of April. Both elderly care homes experienced COVID-19 outbreaks during this period. To determine the day of disease onset, structured and unstructured diagnostic records were analysed for symptoms suggesting COVID-19 infection. The first day of suggestive symptoms on two out of three consecutive days was considered as the day of disease onset. For the PCR-diagnosed residents, the suggestive symptoms used for disease onset were cough, shortness of breath (dyspnoea), sore throat, runny nose, general weakness, headache, confusion, muscle pain, arthralgia, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, vomiting, fever (T° > 37.6°C), increased oxygen need or low oxygen saturation (SpO2 ≤ 92%). In cases where no symptoms were mentioned (while still being PCR COVID-19-positive diagnosed), the date of nasopharyngeal sampling was used as the day of disease onset. For the clinically diagnosed residents without a confirmatory PCR lab test, the symptoms used for determining disease onset were defined more strictly, i.e., respiratory complaints (cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, runny nose), fever  (T° > 37.6°C), increased oxygen-need or low oxygen saturation (SpO2 ≤ 92%).

The primary outcomes were 1) serious COVID-19, i.e. long-stay hospital admission (length of  stay ≥ 7 days) or death (at nursing home or hospital) within 14 days of disease onset, and 2) asymptomatic, i.e. no disease symptoms as defined above throughout the whole study-period while still being PCR diagnosed.

All residents were stratified according to drug exposure to ACEi or ARB within 7 days before the day of disease onset or during the disease (prior to an outcome being reached). Specifically, we considered as treated all residents taking ≥ 2 days an ACEi (ramipril, lisinopril, enalapril, captopril, quinapril, imidapril, fosinopril, trandolapril) or ARB (candesartan, irbesartan,  losartan, olmesartan, telmisartan, valsartan) up to 7 days before or 14 days after disease onset. An identical protocol was used to stratify according to drug exposure to statins (atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, rosuvastatin, simvastatin).

We developed a mapping table based on clinical prescriptions to determine the diabetic and hypertension status of all residents. It was designed by a specialist in elderly care and validated by two independent physicians, one a general physician and the other a cardiologist.

The functional status of all residents was a dichotomous variable (high vs. low functioning). This definition was based on the available Katz scale for residents before day of disease onset. The Katz scale is a measure of independent activity of daily living.

Data processing and quality control

Anonymized data were imported in a relational database for processing, using Extract, Transform, and Load (ETL) techniques. All received anonymized data were then evaluated on basic data quality attributes such as completeness (i.e., the extent of missing data) and accuracy (i.e., whether or not suspicious outliers were present in the individual attributes). Data were enriched with ATC codes for the included drugs. Suggestive symptoms were searched for, based on biometrical measurements as well as indications in text. For the later, basic Natural Language Processing (NLP) techniques were used. For the residents still in the hospital on the moment of data extraction, median imputation was used to estimate length of hospital duration. Two independent physicians manually verified all recorded symptoms as well as all data for random subsample.

Statistical Analysis

We calculated the distributions for dependent and independent variables for the total cohort using appropriate measures of central tendency and dispersion. For our main analysis, we investigated the association between ACEi/ARB and/or statin treatment and 1) serious disease, measured as long-stay hospital admission or death, or 2) asymptomatic disease using a series of logistic regressions applying Firth’s correction. This procedure has been used previously by our group and shown to be robust for low prevalence events and low-dimensional settings (16, 22, 23). We first explored the independent association between ACEi/ARB and both outcomes, as well as the association between statins and the same outcomes. Then we adjusted the models stepwise for age, sex, functional status, hypertension, and diabetes mellitus. All statistical analyses were performed using SAS 9.4 (SAS Institute, North Carolina, United States) and RStudio 3.5.2 (R Foundation for Statistical Computing, Vienna, Austria).

Results

The study cohort included 154 COVID-19-diagnosed residents aged 86±7 (mean±SD) years, evenly distributed over the two nursing homes (76 and 78 residents, respectively). Baseline characteristics are shown in Table 1. In our cohort (33% male), 20% were taking ACEis/ARBs (16% ACEi and 4% ARB), and 20% were taking a statin. Eight residents (5%) were taking both an ACEi/ARB and a statin. Important, none of the residents stopped ACEi/ARB or statin treatment on the day of disease onset and all continued taking their drugs during the follow-up period unless the clinical situation no longer allowed this. Also, none of the residents was taking other renin-angiotensin system (RAS)-associated drugs such as renin-inhibitors or neprylisine-inhibitors. Clinical symptoms detected by NLP in unstructured texts were all manually verified, with 22% false positives, mostly due to mentioned symptoms with more complex negations in the same sentence. Two physicians also independently evaluated manually all available data from a minimum of five random residents each. This resulted in no changes in the result-matrix.

Of the 154 residents, 41 remained asymptomatic during the study period, i.e. 27% of the total cohort and 47% of the PCR-tested COVID-19+ residents. These numbers are similar to those from another study in a similar population (24). Thirty-seven residents (24%) experienced serious COVID-19. Although this serious outcome number seems high compared to other outpatient population studies, in view of the very vulnerable population this is not surprising (25, 26). Among residents treated with ACEis or ARBs, 10/30 (33%) remained asymptomatic vs. 31/124 (25%) of those without such treatment. Residents taking statins remained asymptomatic in  45%  of the cases (14/31)  vs.  22%  (27/123) of those not taking statins. Evaluating COVID-19 severity, 20% (6/30) of the residents treated with ACEi/ARB died or were admitted to hospital for long-stay vs. 25% (31/124) of those without such treatment. Residents taking statins experienced serious COVID-19 in 19% of the cases (6/31) vs. 25% (31/123) of those not taking statins. Interestingly, six of eight residents (75%) taking the ACEi/ARB and statin combination remained asymptomatic throughout the study period. Only one of them (13%) experienced serious COVID-19.

Although not reaching statistical significance, findings from unadjusted logistic regression suggested a potential beneficial effect on COVID-19 symptoms among residents taking ACEis or ARBs (OR 1.52; CI 0.62-3.50; p=0.329). Odds ratios adjusted for age, sex, functional status, diabetes and hypertension were of similar magnitude (Table 2). The results for the statins were most interesting, as we observed a clear and statistically significant association between statin intake and asymptomatic status (unadjusted OR 2.91; CI 1.27-6.71; p=0.011). This association was partially attenuated but remained statistically significant when adjusted for gender, age, functional status, diabetes and hypertension (Table 2).

We also examined associations between ACEis/ARBs and statins, and serious COVID-19. Although the available data failed to reach statistical significance, the directionality of the odds ratios suggested a potential beneficial clinical effect of both ACEi/ARB and statins on serious COVID-19 outcome. All odds ratios (unadjusted as well as adjusted for covariates), were between 0.48 (CI 0.10-1.97; p=0.316) and 0.84 (CI 0.27-2.14; p=0.736) (Table 3).

We did not undertake regression analyses on the combined ACEi/ARB+statin group as there were only eight residents in our cohort; nor did we undertake separate analyses for the ACEi or ARB groups; only six residents were treated with an ARB.

Sensitivity analyses were conducted on the statistically significant association between statins and symptoms. We found that estimates of the impact of statin treatment on asymptomatic status were consistently of the same magnitude and statistically significant as the original analyses.




Discussion

There are currently no licensed antiviral treatments for COVID-19 approved. Also the development of COVID-19 vaccines will take time. Moreover, there is no information on when sufficient vaccine supplies will become widely available. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) communicated a Solidarity “megatrial” evaluating four broad-spectrum antiviral agents. Among them, the broad-spectrum experimental antiviral drug remdesivir was shown to have low efficacy against Ebola and dropped from further study, although a recent report of its compassionate use in serious COVID-19 was favourable (27). Lopinavir and ritonavir (a protease inhibitor combination used to treat HIV patients) were ineffective in a Chinese clinical trial (28). A lot of attention has gone to chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine. Unfortunately prospects for their success against COVID-19 are not good (29). Convalescent sera, obtained from recovered COVID-19 patients, might be an option to treat acute COVID-19 infections (30), but its implementation will be cumbersome and unlikely to become widely available. The first clinical trials of ACEi/ARB and statin treatments in hospital settings have been initiated within the past month. While we await the results of these trials, which are expected in 2021, this retrospective study should be regarded as both timely and complementary, as it has focused on a frail, non-hospitalised population and demonstrated clinical findings on the use of ACEi/ARB/statins using real world data.

Although statistically not significant,  overall both  ACEi/ARB  and statins show clinical beneficial odds ratios for the outcome serious COVID-19 in elderly people who live in nursing homes. The results for statins and symptoms are most convincing, i.e. large effect sizes which are statistically significant. Statins are most frequently used to prevent cardiovascular diseases. The safety profile of statins is well known and excellent, even in the old population. Moreover, these drugs are relatively inexpensive and widespread, some even as food supplements as red yeast rice, making them easily available throughout the world. Although this observational study does not have the power of a randomized controlled clinical trial, in the current absence of other valuable therapies and considering the benefit-risk balance, an older person living in a nursing home could consider taking a statin if at high COVID-19 infection risk. Currently, therapeutic decisions for COVID-19 patients are driven by observational studies (31, 32). In any case, based on our results, we recommend against stopping statins in patients who are COVID-19-infected.

The combination of ACEi/ARB and statin treatment seemed to have additive beneficial effects on symptoms and serious disease outcome: six of eight residents taking the combination remained asymptomatic and only one of them developed serious COVID-19. Although this result is promising, our sample size was too small to allow us to draw firm conclusions.

One strength of this study is the specific population, i.e., old people (mean age > 85years) residing in nursing homes. Although they are considered highly vulnerable to COVID-19 clinical outcomes, no study has yet reported on the effects of ARB/ACEi and/or statin treatment on COVID-19 in this population. Extracting reliable data from nursing homes with COVID-19 outbreaks is far more cumbersome than extracting data from hospitals. Another strength is that drug treatment was based on real intake, in contrast to most hospital-based studies that use prescriptions  as  proxies  for  drug  treatment.  Lastly,  in  contrast  to  most  hospital  studies, asymptomatic COVID-19 patients were included in the study. People admitted to hospitals are evidently always symptomatic.

One limitation of our study is its relatively small cohort size. Consequently, absence of statistical significance should be interpreted with caution. However, the consistency in the observed effect sizes, even without statistical significance due to small sample size, should be considered in the overall evaluation. As number of cases increase, further analyses will be undertaken to better understand our findings and confirm these associations. Also, another limitation was the lack of other potential confounders, including chronic kidney injury and BMI. Finally, our results apply to a very specific population (elderly people living in nursing homes) and cannot be generalized to other groups such as young people or hospitalized people.

Conclusion

Our study, based on available data, indicates that in elderly nursing home residents, statin treatment is associated with beneficial effects on COVID-19-related clinical symptoms. Although not statistically significant, our findings also suggested that statin treatment in combination with an ACEi or ARB was associated with less severe clinical outcomes. In the light of these findings, a prudent recommendation is to continue or initiate statin treatment for older people residing in nursing homes and at high risk for COVID-19 infection.

Acknowledgements

We thank all of the staff of VZW Zorg-Saam Zusters Kindsheid Jesu for their daily care of older people and for their collaboration on this study during these difficult times. We also thank the staff of the Corilus Health IT Center who helped with the data extraction.

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Risk prediction for poor outcome and death in hospital in-patients with COVID-19: derivation in Wuhan, China and external validation in London, UK

First online: 03-05-2020 | Last update: 03-05-2020 (Version 1)

Authors
Huayu Zhang, MSc*1, Ting Shi, PhD*2, Xiaodong Wu, MD*3,4, Xin Zhang, MD5, Kun Wang, MD3,6, Daniel Bean, PhD7,8, Richard Dobson, PhD7,8,9, James T Teo, MD10, Jiaxing Sun, MD3, Pei Zhao, MD3, Chenghong Li, MD11, Kevin Dhaliwal, PhD12, Honghan Wu, PhD†1,13,14, Qiang Li, MD†3, Bruce Guthrie, PhD†15

*Contributed equally  Joint corresponding authors

Affiliations

  1. Centre for Medical Informatics, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
  2. Centre for Global Health, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
  3. Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Shanghai East Hospital, Tongji University, Shanghai, China
  4. Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Taikang Tongji Hospital, Wuhan, China
  5. Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, People’s Liberation Army Joint Logistic Support Force 920th Hospital, Yunnan, China
  6. Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Shanghai General Hospital, Shanghai Jiaotong University School of Medicine, Shanghai, China
  7. Department of Biostatistics and Health Informatics, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, London, England, United Kingdom
  8. Health Data Research UK London, University College London, London, UK
  9. Institute of Health Informatics, University College London, London, England, United Kingdom
  10. Department of Stroke and Neurology, King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, London, England, United Kingdom
  11. Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Wuhan Sixth Hospital, Jianghan
    University, Wuhan, China
  12. Centre for Inflammation Research, Queens Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
  13. School of Computer and Software, Nanjing University of Information Science and Technology, Nanjing, China
  14. Health Data Research UK London, University of Edinburgh, London, UK
  15. Centre for Population Health Sciences, Usher Institute, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom

Lead corresponding author
Bruce Guthrie, Professor of General Practice, University of Edinburgh UK
e-mail bruce.guthrie@ed.ac.uk
Tel +44 7948 267 273

Word count 3492

Citation

Zhang, Huayu, et al. “Risk prediction for poor outcome and death in hospital in-patients with COVID-19: derivation in Wuhan, China and external validation in London, UK.” medRxiv 2020.04.28.20082222. https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.28.20082222

Research in context

Evidence before this study

Several prognostic models for predicting mortality risk, progression to severe disease, or length of hospital stay in COVID-19 have been published.1 Commonly reported predictors of severe prognosis in patients with COVID-19 include age, sex, computed tomography scan features, C-reactive protein (CRP), lactic dehydrogenase, and lymphocyte count. Symptoms (notably dyspnoea) and comorbidities (e.g. chronic lung disease, cardiovascular disease and hypertension) are also reported to have associations with poor prognosis.2 However, most studies have not described the study population or intended use of prediction models, and external validation is rare and to date done using datasets originating from different Wuhan hospitals.3 Given different patterns of testing and organisation of healthcare pathways, external validation in datasets from other countries is required.

Added value of this study

This study used data from Wuhan, China to derive and internally validate multivariable models to predict poor outcome and death in COVID-19 patients after hospital admission, with external validation using data from King’s College Hospital, London, UK. Mortality and poor outcome occurred in 4.3% and 9.7% of patients in Wuhan, compared to 34.1% and 42.9% of patients in London. Models based on age, sex and simple routinely available laboratory tests (lymphocyte count, neutrophil count, platelet count, CRP and creatinine) had good discrimination and calibration in internal validation, but performed only moderately well in external validation. Models based on age, sex, symptoms and comorbidity were adequate in internal validation for poor outcome (ICU admission or death) but had poor performance for death alone.

Implications of all the available evidence

This study and others find that relatively simple risk prediction models using demographic, clinical and laboratory data perform well in internal validation but at best moderately in external validation, either because derivation and external validation populations are small (Xie et al3) and/or because they vary greatly in casemix and severity (our study). There are three decision points where risk prediction may be most useful: (1) deciding who to test; (2) deciding which patients in the community are at high-risk of poor outcomes; and (3) identifying patients at high-risk at the point of hospital admission. Larger studies focusing on particular decision points, with rapid external validation in multiple datasets are needed. A key gap is risk prediction tools for use in community triage (decisions to admit, or to keep at home with varying intensities of follow-up including telemonitoring) or in low income settings where laboratory tests may not be routinely available at the point of decision-making. This requires systematic data collection in community and low-income settings to derive and evaluate appropriate models.

Abstract

Background

Accurate risk prediction of clinical outcome would usefully inform clinical decisions and intervention targeting in COVID-19. The aim of this study was to derive and validate risk prediction models for poor outcome and death in adult inpatients with COVID-19.

Methods

Model derivation using data from Wuhan, China used logistic regression with death and poor outcome (death or severe disease) as outcomes. Predictors were demographic, comorbidity, symptom and laboratory test variables. The best performing models were externally validated in data from London, UK.

Findings

4.3 % of the derivation cohort (n=775) died and 9.7% had a poor outcome, compared to 34.1% and 42.9% of the validation cohort (n=226). In derivation, prediction models based on age, sex, neutrophil count, lymphocyte count, platelet count, C-reactive protein and creatinine had excellent discrimination (death c- index=0.91, poor outcome c-index=0.88), with good-to-excellent calibration. Using two cut-offs to define low, high and very-high risk groups, derivation patients were stratified in groups with observed death rates of 0.34%, 15.0% and 28.3% and poor outcome rates 0.63%, 8.9% and 58.5%. External validation discrimination was good (c-index death=0.74, poor outcome=0.72) as was calibration. However, observed rates of death were 16.5%, 42.9% and 58.4% and poor outcome 26.3%, 28.4% and 64.8% in predicted low, high and very-high risk groups.

Interpretation

Our prediction model using demography and routinely-available laboratory tests performed very well in internal validation in the lower-risk derivation population, but less well in the much higher-risk external validation population. Further external validation is needed. Collaboration to create larger derivation datasets, and to rapidly externally validate all proposed prediction models in a range of populations is needed, before routine implementation of any risk prediction tool in clinical care.

Funding

MRC, Wellcome Trust, HDR-UK, LifeArc, participating hospitals, NNSFC, National Key R&D Program, Pudong Health and Family Planning Commission

Introduction

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) is the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). A local outbreak of COVID-19 was first detected in Wuhan, China and rapidly spread to cause a pandemic.4

A key feature of the pandemic in all areas with large local epidemics is that healthcare systems are often rapidly overwhelmed. Effective and safe triage to ensure that those at highest risk of severe disease are appropriately escalated, and those at lower risk safely monitored, is critical to maintain healthcare system capacity for as long as possible. The same risk stratification is also needed to support targeted recruitment to both mechanistic and interventional research studies, since developing effective treatments of early disease is a key objective alongside vaccine development. Although risk stratification is important in all health systems, exactly how risk stratification is done will vary by country and by healthcare system. Across all systems though, important care pathway decision points include (1) who to test (particularly important when tests are in short supply); (2) who to hospitalize, and who to care for in the community (with or without telemonitoring or other proactive follow-up), and; (3) who to direct down different care pathways after admission. Since the severity of disease and risk of poor outcome varies by point on the pathway, there is a need for a range of risk stratification tools based on the data available at different stages of the care pathway (Figure 1), and/or in different healthcare systems.

A number of studies have identified patient characteristics associated with poor outcomes in COVID-19 using univariate analysis. Older age, being male, dyspnea and comorbidities (e.g. chronic obstructive airways disease [COPD], cardiovascular disease, hypertension) are associated with intensive care unit (ICU) admission,2,5-11 and comorbidities are also reported to be associated with an increased risk of death.12,13 However, many studies do not report adjusted associations and few examine laboratory findings, although there are reported univariate associations between the development of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and a range of predictors including high fever (≥39°C), older age, and laboratory measures including neutrophilia, d-dimer and other evidence of coagulation and organ dysfunction.14 However, univariate analysis is usually a poor guide to risk because of confounding, most obviously between age and physical morbidities.15

Two studies have published multivariable/adjusted findings. Zhou et al examined risk factors for in- hospital death in 191 patients, finding significant adjusted associations with older age, higher Sequential Organ Failure Assessment (SOFA) score, lower lymphocyte count and increased d-dimer.16 Xie et al is the only published study explicitly aiming to create a risk prediction model for inpatient mortality for clinical use, with derivation in 299 patients admitted to one Wuhan hospital and external validation in 145 patients admitted to another Wuhan hospital.3 Mortality was very high in both derivation (51.8%) and validation (47.6%) cohorts. Factors associated with inpatient mortality were age, lower lymphocyte count, higher lactate dehydrogenase and lower peripheral capillary oxygen saturation (SpO2), and external validation showed reasonable performance (calibration was excellent but only after model recalibration to the validation dataset which will rarely be possible in clinical use).3 Neither study reported clinically relevant performance measures such as sensitivity, specificity and positive/negative predictive value.

The aim of this study was to derive and internally validate risk prediction models for poor outcome and death in a cohort of 775 inpatients with COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, with external validation in a cohort of 226 inpatients with COVID-19 in London, UK.

Methods

Methods are briefly described here and in detail in the supplementary file.

Study design and participants

The multivariable risk prediction model was derived in a cohort of 775 adults with COVID-19 confirmed by RT-PCR admitted to one of two hospitals in Wuhan, China (Wuhan Sixth Hospital and Taikang Tongji Hospital). The model was externally validated in a cohort of 226 adult inpatients with confirmed COVID-19 in King’s College Hospital (KCH) NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK.

Statistical modelling

A logistic regression model was chosen for its good clinical interpretability. Models were fitted with L1- regularization (LASSO) to minimize overfitting. Two clinically relevant outcomes were defined: death and poor outcome (defined as: developing ARDS, receiving intubation or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment, ICU admission and death). Predictor variables were participants’ demographic characteristics, premorbid conditions, symptoms and laboratory test results (around admission) as predictors. Combinations of predictors were made with consideration of information availability at points of the health care pathway (Figure 1):

  1. Community triage: Demographic + premorbid Conditions + Symptoms (DCS)
  2. Hospital admission (full model): DCS + Laboratory results (DCSL)
  3. Hospital admission (simpler model): Demographic + Laboratory results (DL)

Models are referred to as predictor-outcome (e.g. DCS-Death). For each model, predictors with coefficients significantly different to zero in cross-validation were selected. Optimal L1-regularization strength for preferred models was chosen by best C-index in cross-validation. All models were internally validated with cross-validation to select variables based on model fit and not just individual predictor statistical significance, and model performance metrics in the held-out partition were reported. To explore prediction cut-offs to use to inform clinical decision-making, we grouped patients into low-, high- and very high-risk groups based on predicted probabilities obtained from the final models. Cut-offs to define the low and high-risk groups were arbitrarily assigned to be approximately 10-fold lower and 8-fold higher than the outcome percentage in the whole dataset. Models using DL predictors were externally validated in the KCH cohort, using two outcomes: death and poor outcome (defined as ICU admission or death).

Ethics and governance

The derivation study was approved by the Research Ethics Committee of Shanghai Dongfang Hospital and Taikang Tongji Hospital. The external validation study operated under London South East Research Ethics Committee (reference 18/LO/2048) approval granted to the King’s Electronic Records Research Interface (KERRI).

Results

Description of the patient cohort

The derivation cohort consisted of 775 adult in-patients with COVID-19 in Wuhan (Table 1). The median age was 61 years (IQR 50-68, range 18-96), 48.9% were men, and 345 (44.5%) had comorbidity (most commonly hypertension (30.8%), diabetes mellitus (13.7%) and heart disease (11.0%)). The most common symptoms on admission were fever (68.6%) and cough (68.1%), followed by fatigue (54.3%) and dyspnoea (45.8%). Median lymphocyte count was 1.4 (IQR 1.1-1.9) 10^9/L, neutrophil count 3.5 (2.7-4.9) 10^9/L, platelet count 224 (180-274) 10^9/L, CRP 2.7 (0.9-14.1) mg/L and creatinine 63.9 (54.1-76.4) µmol/L.

The validation cohort consisted of 226 adult patients admitted to Kings College Hospital, London with a positive COVID-19 RT-PCR, and with complete data for the laboratory tests included in the derivation risk prediction model (Table 1). Median age was 74 years (IQR 59-85, range 19-98) and 54.9% were men. Data on symptoms and comorbidity were not extracted. Median lymphocyte count was 1.1 (IQR 0.7-1.6) 10^9/L, neutrophil count 4.9 (3.4-6.9) 10^9/L, platelet count 211 (160-284) 10^9/L, CRP 56.0 (21.1-115.5) mg/L, and creatinine 90.0 (68.0-126.0 µmol/L.

Median lymphocyte count and platelet count was lower, and median age, proportion male, neutrophil count, CRP and creatinine higher in the KCH validation compared to the Wuhan derivation cohort. In the derivation cohort, 33 (4.3%) died and 75 (9.7%) had pre-defined poor outcome (ARDS, intubation, ECMO, ICU admission or death) (two patients had missing data for death and three patients had missing data for poor outcome). Both outcomes were much more common in the validation cohort where 77 (34.1%) died, and 97 (42.9%) of patients experienced a poor outcome (ICU admission or death).

Univariate associations of patient characteristics and outcomes are summarised in Table S1, with findings broadly consistent with previously reported univariate associations.2,12,13 The strongest observed univariate associations were increased risk of each outcome with increasing age, the presence of prior comorbidity (particularly chronic lung disease, heart disease, immunocompromise, chronic renal disease and hypertension), the presence of dyspnoea, and laboratory values (increased risk with higher neutrophil count, CRP and creatinine, and with lower lymphocyte count and platelet count).

Derivation of prediction models in the Wuhan cohort

Table 2 summarises multivariable odds ratios of models for both outcomes (Table S2 reports the predictor coefficients with more precision), and Table 3 details model performance in internal and external validation. In adjusted analysis, underlying conditions and symptoms were no longer associated with either outcome with the exception of dyspnoea which was associate with poor outcome, although confidence intervals are wide meaning that a type 2 error cannot be ruled out.

For the outcome of death, DCS-Death, DCSL-Death and DL-Death models achieved C-indices of 0.79, 0.89 and 0.91, respectively (Table 3 and Figure S1A). Calibration evaluated using calibration-in-the-large and calibration slope was poor for DCS-Death and DCSL-Death models, but good for DL-Death (calibration-in-the-large 0.19 [perfect calibration=0], calibration slope 0.98 [perfect calibration=1]).

In the DL-Death model, increased blood neutrophil counts (OR 1.25 [all OR for continuous variables are per one unit increase in predictor values], p=0.002) and CRP levels (OR 1.01, p=0.008) were significantly associated with death. Other variables were not statistically significantly associated with death but included because they improved model fit.

Using a probability of 0.5 as the prediction cut-off for the DL-Death model, sensitivity was 0.33, positive predictive value 0.52, specificity 0.99, and negative predictive value 0.98, which is not adequate for clinical use. Using the two alternative probability cut-offs to define low, high, and very high risk groups, the percentage who died in the low, high, and very high risk groups were 0.34% (n=2/580), 15.0% (n=3/20) and 28.3% (n=15/53), respectively (Figure 2A-B, Table S3). Notably, the model defined a low- risk group comprising 88.8% of patients with very high negative predictive value (0.997) (Table 3) as well as a very-high risk group comprising 8.1% of patients in whom 75% of observed deaths occurred.

For poor outcome, the DCS-Poor, DCSL-Poor and DL-Poor models achieved C-indices of 0.80, 0.88 and 0.88, respectively (Table 3, Figure S1B). Calibration was better than for models predicting death, and was very good for the DL-Poor model (calibration-in-the-large 0.01, calibration slope 1.04).

In the DL-Poor model, risk of poor outcome of COVID-19 was associated with increased blood neutrophil counts (OR 1.29 [all OR for continuous variables are per one unit increase in predictor value], p=<0.001), increased creatinine levels (OR 1.01, p=0.002) and decreased blood lymphocyte counts (OR 0.31, p=0.004). Age (OR 1.03, p=0.053) and CRP (OR 1.01, p=0.060) were strongly associated but marginally not statistically significant in adjusted models. Other variables were not statistically significantly associated with death but included because they improved model fit.

Using a probability of 0.5 as the prediction cut-off for the DL-Poor model, sensitivity was 0.36, positive predictive value 0.72, specificity 0.99, and negative predictive value 0.94, which is not ideal for clinical use. Using the two alternative probability cut-offs, the percentage of patients with poor outcome in the low, high, and very high-risk groups were 0.63% (n=2/320), 8.9% (n=25/280) and 58.5% (n=31/53), respectively (Figure 2E-F). Notably, the model defined a low-risk group comprising 49.0% of patients with very high negative predictive value (0.99) (Table 3) as well as a very-high risk group comprising 8.1% of patients with high positive predictive value (0.60) in which 53% of observed poor outcomes occurred.

External validation of the model in KCH cohort

Table 3 shows the performance (discrimination, calibration and clinical usefulness) of the DL-Death and DL-Poor models without any re-calibration. Both models showed good discrimination measured by the C-index (death: 0.74; poor outcome: 0.72), but calibration was only fair with calibration-in-the-large 0.25 for death and 0.28 for poor outcome, and calibration slope 0.54 for death and 0.54 for poor outcome. Calibration plots are shown in Figure S2, and show some under-prediction at low levels of risk. Using the default probability cut-off of 0.5, sensitivity was poor (0.23 for death; 0.40 for poor outcome), specificity good to excellent (0.95; 0.85), PPV (0.69; 0.67) and NPV (0.71; 0.65) were fair, given outcome prevalence.

Using the derivation model probability cut-offs for low, high and very high risk groups, the DL-Death model categorized the external validation cohort into groups with death rates of 16.5% (n=20/121), 42.9% (n=12/28) and 58.4% (n=45/77). Sensitivity at the low-high risk cut-off was 0.77, specificity 0.68, PPV 0.55 and NPV 0.85, and at the high-very high risk cut-off sensitivity 0.58, specificity 0.78, PPV 0.58 and NPV 0.78.

Using the derivation model probability cut-offs for low, high and very high risk groups, the DL-Poor model categorized the KCH cohort into groups with outcome rates of 26.3% (n=5/19), 28.4% (n=33/116) and 64.8% (n=59/91). Sensitivity at the low-high risk cut-off was 0.95, specificity 0.11, PPV 0.44 and NPV 0.74, and at the high-very high risk cut-off sensitivity 0.61, specificity 0.75, PPV 0.72 and NPV 0.65.

Discussion

We derived and internally validated models to predict the risk of death and poor outcome for COVID-19 patients using a cohort of inpatients in Wuhan, China with a relatively low risk of death (4.3%) and poor outcome (9.7%). Four groups of predictors were examined: demographic information, premorbid conditions, symptoms and laboratory results. Models including demographic and laboratory data (DL models) had the best performance, with older age, higher neutrophil count, lower lymphocyte count, lower platelet count, higher CRP and higher creatinine being predictive of death and poor outcome. In internal validation, DL model performance was good, and it was possible to define low, high and very- high risk groups for both outcomes. DL models were externally validated in a cohort of inpatients in London, UK with eight-fold higher risk of death (34.1%) and four-fold higher risk of poor outcome (42.9%) reflecting different care pathways in the two countries (Figure 1) and therefore different casemix of those admitted (Table 1). In this very different cohort, DL model performance was only fair to moderate in the external validation dataset, and further external validation is required in datasets with different casemix and severity.

Our study has several strengths. First, model derivation used a relatively large cohort of inpatients with COVID-19 from Wuhan, China with 99.6% ascertainment of endpoints, and predictors measured on admission. Derivation and internal validation of prediction models was robust. Second, we externally validated parsimonious risk prediction models using a dataset from a different country with a very different pattern of COVID-19 admission (London, UK). Third, the study is reported in accordance with the TRIPOD guidelines17 including detailed methods reporting in the supplementary file to facilitate reproducibility and further external validation.1

The study also has a number of limitations. First, the clinical datasets were collected when healthcare services were under severe strain. Data extraction sought to ensure consistency and accuracy, but was not blind to outcome, and there is missing data in both datasets. Second, the datasets used are smaller than ideal (although as large as or larger than previous studies), and there are relatively few deaths in particular. Our analytical approach aimed to minimise overfitting, but further research using larger, federated datasets is clearly required. Third, clinical assessments at admission such as SpO2 are likely to be important predictors of short-term outcome,3 but were not available in either dataset. Fourth, our external validation dataset has very different case-mix where spectrum effects are likely to contribute to lower prediction model performance, and only has follow-up to a fixed date (period range: [6-39] days, although this is a reasonable time-horizon to inform clinical decision-making at hospital admission). Finally, all data available is for people with PCR-diagnosed COVID-19 who are admitted to hospital (decision 3 in Figure 1). Although the Wuhan cohort includes many people with less severe disease, in the validation cohort most admitted patients are likely to have severe disease. The findings therefore cannot be assumed to be applicable to decisions made earlier in the course of disease (decision 2 in Figure 1).

Our univariate findings are similar to other studies reporting univariate associations. Older patients and those with dyspnoea or premorbid conditions (e.g. chronic lung disease, hypertension, cardiovascular disease) are consistently reported to be more susceptible to in-hospital death or poor outcome of COVID-19.2,6,8,9,12,13,18 Lymphocytopenia, neutrophilia, and markers of inflammation (e.g. CRP), cell death (e.g. lactate dehydrogenase (LDH)) and abnormal coagulation (e.g. d-dimer) have all also been reported as associated with poor outcome.14 However, the majority of these studies are small and only reported univariate associations.

Our findings are similar to the few studies reporting multivariable associations, although the predictors included are not identical.3,16 Age is a very strong predictor of outcome, and accounting for age reduces associations with comorbidity and symptoms (although no study including our own is large enough to rule out significant type 2 error i.e. that these are truly not independently associated with outcomes). Lymphocyte count is included in all three models, but Zhou et al also included d-dimer and SOFA score, whereas Xie et al included LDH and SpO2, compared to our inclusion of neutrophil count and CRP. The three models are therefore based on demography, (different) laboratory measures, and (different) clinical measures. The choice of predictors in all three studies is driven by data availability, and by initial univariate analysis identifying different features to model (SOFA score for example is a good predictor in Zhou et al,16 but not in Xie et al’s study.3 There is a need for larger studies to derive and validate more optimal models suitable for use at different points in the natural history of COVID-19, since for example, comorbidity may (or may not) be an important predictor of admission but less important than laboratory markers for predicting prognosis in those admitted.

Xie et al’s prediction model was externally validated in a similar dataset from Wuhan with very high mortality in both datasets (derivation cohort 51.8% died, validation cohort 47.6%). Discrimination in external validation was excellent, but calibration was poor until the model intercept and slope were recalibrated to the external validation dataset. We chose not to recalibrate our model to the external dataset, since this will hardly ever be feasible in a tool intended for clinical use for an epidemic disease (and Xie et al’s nomogram intended for use by clinicians is also based on the derivation model). Xie et al did not publish clinically relevant performance metrics such as sensitivity, specificity, PPV and NPV, making it difficult to evaluate clinical utility.

The findings of this and previous studies are consistent with demography and routinely available laboratory measurements being useful markers of prognosis at the time of hospital admission, indicating that simple risk prediction tools may usefully inform clinical decision-making at this point in the care pathway. However, COVID-19 risk prediction models need external validation before widespread clinical use, because severity and prognosis depends on the setting and system of care. Our Wuhan derivation cohort is closer to a general population cohort (mortality 4.3%) than either our validation cohort in London (mortality 34.1%) or the Wuhan cohorts in other studies (mortality 28.3%,16 and 51.8% derivation and 47.6% validation3). It may therefore be better suited to decisions about who to admit and who can safely be sent home to self-isolate (decision 2 in Figure 1) than to identifying those at highest risk of poor outcome and death in people with more severe disease, for example at the point of potential ICU admission. All proposed prediction models therefore require repeated external validation in multiple datasets to identify the contexts in which they can be most effectively deployed. The DCS and DL models are available as prediction tools in a web portal but we emphasise that they should be used with caution, particularly in settings with different rates of poor outcomes, and are not a replacement for clinical judgement (https://covid.datahelps.life/prediction/).

Although very challenging under epidemic conditions, systematic data collection during clinical care and rapid data analysis is therefore essential to understand the natural history of COVID-19 to inform clinical decision-making along the entire care pathway (Figure 1). Of note is that our models based solely on demography, symptoms and premorbid conditions did not perform optimally in internal validation, which may indicate that community assessment would optimally include simple blood tests. Further research is needed to examine this, and the relative value of laboratory tests compared to clinical examination (e.g. pulse, respiratory rate, SpO2). Key gaps are in data collection and analysis in early disease and in the community (since minimising admission when it is safe to do so is critical for keeping hospital services functioning) and at the point of ICU admission (since there may or may not be populations where mechanical ventilation is predictably futile).

The observed associations between raised neutrophil19 and low lymphocyte counts20 with outcomes highlights that understanding and delineating the innate and adaptive immune cascade may inform potential interventional strategies. These include targeting viral replication alongside directed anti- inflammatory agents to mitigate the inflammatory cascade.21 The timing of such interventions is likely to be crucial, and risk prediction models therefore have the additional potential to support targeted and timely treatment initiation.

Conclusion

Risk prediction tools have considerable potential to inform clinical decision-making at different points in the COVID-19 care pathway. Existing models, including our own, perform well in derivation datasets but robust and repeated external validation is required before widespread clinical use. Collaborative research to derive and validate tools using larger datasets from all points on the clinical pathway is urgently needed.

Author contribution

QL, HW, BG, HZ, TS, and XW conceived the study. All data from the Wuhan cohort were extracted by XZ, JS, PZ, and CL, double-checked by KW and XW, with disagreements resolved by involving a third independent reviewer (QL). Data from the KCH cohort were extracted by DB and reviewed by JTT. HZ, TS, BG, KD and HW analysed the data, with HZ, TS, BG, KD, HW, XW, RD and JTT leading interpretation of findings. All authors participated in the preparation and approval of the Article.

Declaration of interests

We declare no competing interests.

Acknowledgements

HW and HZ are supported by Medical Research Council and Health Data Research UK Grant (MR/S004149/1), Industrial Strategy Challenge Grant (MC_PC_18029) and Wellcome Institutional Translation Partnership Award (PIII054). RD is supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London. DMB is funded by a UKRI Innovation Fellowship as part of Health Data Research UK MR/S00310X/1 (https://www.hdruk.ac.uk). KD is supported by LifeArc STOPCOVID award. This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support. XW is supported by National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number:81700006). QL is supported by National Key R&D Program (2018YFC1313700), National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant number: 81870064) and the “Gaoyuan” project of Pudong Health and Family Planning Commission (PWYgy2018-06). The views expressed are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the NHS, the NIHR, or the Department of Health and Social Care. We acknowledge Lingyu Ran and Yongsheng Du for their contribution in data collection.

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Figure 1: Comparison of COVID-19 patients care pathway in China and UK


Figure 2: Risk stratification of COVID-19 patients using predicted probability of DL-Death (top two panels) and DL-Poor models (bottom two panels)