Examining coronavirus patients' CT scans could lead to a quicker diagnosis of those with suspected symptoms, doctors have discovered.
A team of researchers in Mount Sinai, New York - the first in the US to analyse CT scans of patients - have said they can identify specific patterns in the lungs as markers of the disease.
The study revealed scan analysis could be a viable option for suspected patients and help determine which patients with inconclusive results should be kept in isolation.
The doctors, who published their findings in Radiology, received the scans of 94 patients in China who had been admitted to four medical centers in four Chinese provinces between 18 January and 2 February.
Most of them had traveled to Wuhan or had close contact with an infected patient, the Mount Sinai School of Medicine said.
Of the 36 patients who received scans in zero to two days within reporting symptoms, more than half showed no evidence of lung disease.
In a group of 33 patients who received CT scans three to five days after reporting symptoms, the team observed patterns of “ground-glass opacities” - white patches showing up on the scan which became more round in shape and dense.
In the 25 patients scanned six to 12 days after symptoms, the scans analysis showed fully involved lung disease.
Patterns seen in these images are similar to patterns seen in related outbreaks such as Sars and Mers.
“Recognizing imaging patterns based on infection time course is paramount for not only understanding the disease process and natural history of COVID-19 but also for helping to predict patient progression and potential complication development, “ said lead author Adam Bernheim, assistant professor of diagnostic, molecular and interventional radiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Doctors said when patients first report symptoms of possible COVID-19, they are nonspecific, often resembling a common cold, so it can be difficult to diagnose and confirmatory tests by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention can take several days.
It also cited that the study allows hospitals in the United States and worldwide to confirm or rule out coronavirus based on CT images.
If lung scans for patients with early symptoms are inconclusive, doctors can consider holding the patient in isolation for a few days until a decisive verdict can be made.
Prof Bernheim added: “This is necessary for prompt diagnosis for any individual patient (which will lead to more rapid and effective care), but also for patient isolation to prevent the spreading of the highly contagious disease.”
Currently, there are 81,191 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 2,768 people have died from the respiratory virus.