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COVID-19 complications: NCDs as an indicator

NCDs top cause of death concept. chronic disease. Copyright: jes2ufoto / 123RF Stock Photo. NCD rate illustration. Illustration of NCDs as a COVID-19 complications indicator.
Research indicates some NCDs can act as an indicator of COVID-19 complications. Image credit: jes2ufoto / 123RF Stock Photo

Artificial intelligence (AI)-based research further suggests the presence of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) are an indicator of the risk of developing COVID-19 complications.

Bengaluru-based firm nference Labs conducted the analysis using AI. They identified cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease as the most significant predictors of COVID-19 complications during the early stages of infection with the disease. This was based on an analysis of 1.1 million notes covering 1,803 people hospitalised with COVID-19 which assessed the relationship between 21 pre-existing conditions and twenty COVID-19 complications.

“These findings will help clinicians prioritise patients according to their vulnerability for developing complications and focus on the commonest complications that are associated with different co-morbidities and, thus, save lives,” said Venky Soundararajan, the co-founder and chief scientific officer of the firm’s parent company nference in remarks to The Times of India. Soundarajan added that “pleural effusion, or accumulation of fluid in the lungs, was the most common of early COVID infection complications (4.9 percent) followed by cardiac arrhythmia.”

It has been long understood that NCDs play a pivotal role in a patient’s presentation when infected with COVID-19 and the risk of severe complications and death. In West Bengal, for example, the state health department ascertained last year that comorbidities proved lethal in a substantial proportion of COVID-19 fatalities in the state. 

The research, which investigated fatalities between the state’s first confirmed death due to COVID-19 in March and the final week of November, found hypertension to be present in thirty percent of women and 28 percent of men who died due to the disease. Diabetes presented in 24.5 percent of women and 24.2 percent of men; cardiovascular disease presented in 10.6 percent of men and 8.3 percent of women; nephrotic syndrome in 10.2 percent of men and 9.7 percent of women; and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 5.5 percent of men and 3.9 percent of women. 

These new findings from nference Labs reinforce the need for aggressive screening for NCDs, which the pandemic has undeniably disrupted. This is a concern – not only given the potential for conditions to go missed and subsequently untreated but also because such conditions are a risk factor for severe disease as a result of COVID-19. An analysis last year estimated that 1.7 billion people of the global population (22 percent) are at risk of developing severe COVID-19 necessitating hospitalisation due to pre-existing conditions. This included 21.5 percent of the Indian population with at least one underlying condition placing them at elevated risk of developing COVID-19 complications. 

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