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Infectious Diseases

Updated 23 September 2020

Stroke scans may reveal Covid-19 infection, latest study shows

Emergency scans intended to diagnose stroke could also pick up Covid-19.

  • Researchers have indicated that stroke scans may also reveal Covid-19 infection
  • The findings are based on a study of over 200 patients
  • According to the research team, the information could be useful for radiologists and doctors

New research from King's College London has found that Covid-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, may be diagnosed by the same emergency scans intended to diagnose stroke.

The researchers, from the university’s School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences, stated that their findings have important implications for the management of patients presenting with suspected stroke through early identification of Covid-19.

The paper was published in the American Journal of Neuroradiology.

'Ground glass opacification'

According to a university news release, study lead author, senior lecturer in neuroimaging and consultant radiologist at King’s College Hospital, Dr Tom Booth, explained that the emergency scans captured images of the top of the lungs of patients where a fluffiness, known as "ground glass opacification", allowed Covid-19 to be diagnosed.

For the study, 225 patients from three London Hyper-Acute Stroke Units were examined.

The emergency stroke scan consisted of a computed tomography (CT) of the head and neck blood vessels.

Booth explained that when the team saw the changes at the top of the lungs during the emergency scan, they were able to accurately diagnose Covid-19. More than this, he said that the changes could also predict increased mortality.

Why the findings are relevant

“This is particularly relevant given the limitations of currently available SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) testing as it takes time to complete the test and sometimes it is inaccurate," said Booth, adding:

“... our data have prognostic information given the increased mortality in those with lung changes shown in our cohort.” 

Since the changes are easy to understand, the findings are also useful for radiologists and other doctors to see, said Booth. 

“This is ‘free information’ from a scan intended for another purpose, yet extremely valuable.”