Scientists at the University of York have identified what puts patients at greatest risk of dying with Covid.

A study of patients in York, Scarborough and Manchester has revealed unique “indicators” in the blood of patients with severe and fatal Covid.

The move will pave the way for simple diagnostic tests to help doctors identify who will go on to become critically ill.

The study led by researchers at the Hull York Medical School and Department of Mathematics at the University of York saw them analyse blood samples from hospitalised Covid patients.

They detected markers in the blood associated with patients becoming so ill they needed treatment in intensive care.

The findings may lead to new ways for triaging and assessing the risk of Covid patients, relieving the pressure from hospitals during infection spikes.

The lead author of the study Dr Dimitris Lagos, from Hull York Medical School at the University of York, said the study identified the factors and how the disease develops in stages, giving the potential for doctors to identify high risk patients early from routine blood tests.

The research, published in the journal iScience, involved testing blood samples from over 160 patients admitted to hospital during the first and second wave of the pandemic in 2020.

It found certain proteins known as cytokines and chemokines in the blood affect people’s immunity and high levels of them worsened your severity.

Dr David Yates, Consultant in Intensive Care Medicine and the Clinical Lead for Research at York and Scarborough Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “This collaborative work is very exciting. Having the ability to spot which hospitalised patients are more likely to deteriorate and need our services in Critical Care will open up a whole new area of research into which treatments should be given at different stages of this terrible disease.

Dr Yates continued: “Other national research projects our trust has been involved with in like the Recovery and REMAP-CAP trials, have already given us a handful of effective treatments for Covid-19. The trial goes one step further in identifying very specific features in used blood samples that would otherwise have just been thrown away. This means we might be able to target those novel treatments more effectively to those patients at the greatest risk.”

The study was part of the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium (UK-CIC), which was funded by the government’s UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) body and the National Institute for Health Research, which brings together 20 institutions including the University of York.

The major project was launched in 2020 with £6.5 million of funding over 12 months from UKRI to answer key questions on how the immune system interacts with COVID-19, in order to develop better treatments, diagnostics and vaccines.