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New Covid Triage Tool

Coronavirus Daily

Covid triage tool helps flag riskiest cases

As hospitals again run out of intensive-care beds, doctors just gained a new triage tool to help them decide how to prioritize medical treatment.

A Swiss firm called Abionic SA started selling a blood test in Europe that it says can help hospitals more quickly pinpoint patients at risk of a severe form of Covid-19. The method can be performed on a droplet of blood, and gives results in five minutes.

A low score can allow physicians to shift patients from intensive care to the general ward -- or discharge them.

This kind of technology could be vital until vaccines are widely deployed. Intensive-care units filled up in the most recent surge of infections across Europe and hospitals in the U.S. Midwest are now also struggling. Ward occupancy has come down slightly in France and Belgium, but Sweden is at its highest level since June.

Hospitals typically use age and medical history to single out high-risk patients -- a blunt tool as Covid-19 turns out to overwhelm healthy young people as well. A triage score known as AIFELL, for instance, uses six criteria that include an altered sense of smell, inflammation and fever to assess risk.

An ideal test would find younger people at higher risk and older people at lower risk, two populations that defy common generalizations.

Abionic's testing equipment.

Source: Abionic

Abionic's tool uses a biomarker called pancreatic stone protein, which is secreted by the pancreas in response to stress from a systemic infection and can signal organ dysfunction. It's already been used to gauge the risk of developing sepsis.

Triage can also let doctors better deploy scarce treatments, such as the antibody cocktail developed by drugmakers Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc. and Roche Holding AG. Since the medicine appears to be more effective early on in an infection, it would be better to swiftly pinpoint patients who are at higher risk, Chief Executive Officer Severin Schwan said in an interview with Bloomberg News last week.

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