Study seeking clues to COVID risk

Man in scrubs standing with a man (patient) holding a grip strength test mechanism
Professor Dale Edgar takes a patient through the grip test
June 16, 2020

Research led by Fiona Stanley Hospital physiotherapist Dale Edgar will determine whether performance at two simple exercises could help predict which COVID-19 patients are likely to develop severe disease.

Most COVID-19 patients experience only mild to moderate symptoms but about 15 per cent will develop severe respiratory disease, with some needing intensive medical management or even admission to an intensive care unit.

At present, however, there is no way of telling which patients will become severely unwell.

Associate Professor Edgar’s study could change this.

In addition to monitoring patients’ symptoms, it will track their grip strength and counts of sitting to standing in a minute, during their time in hospital.

Both exercises can be performed quickly and simply. The grip test is a sentinel measure of a person’s overall muscle strength, while the sit-to-stand assessment can be used to predict mortality in the elderly.

Associate Professor Edgar’s study will also track patients for 12 months to enhance understanding of long-term recovery from COVID-19.

Associate Professor Edgar’s study – Life AfTER COVID-19 (LATER-19) – is among 12 WA projects that are sharing in close to $2 million of State Government funding to support COVID-19-related research.

If found to be effective in predicting disease severity, the exercises would give healthcare staff a simple, cheap and non-invasive means of knowing which patients required extra monitoring – and potentially more aggressive intervention.

Information gathered from the tests would also be helpful in guiding the rehabilitation of patients who survived COVID-19 but were left with long-term physical impairment.

The study will be conducted by clinicians, academics and researchers from WA’s three tertiary hospital sites, the WA Country Health Service and multiple universities.

Participants from the LATER-19 study will be drawn from patients already enrolled in a global, World Health Organisation-endorsed observational project known as ISARIC (International Severe Acute Respiratory and Emerging Infection Consortium).

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