Tuesday, July 14, 2020

CT Scan Technology May Detect Unknowing Carriers of COVID-19, Says Ottawa Heart Institute

Dr. Andrew Crean is interested in the application of cross-sectional cardiac imaging and molecular imaging to all forms of cardiac disease. Alongside his colleagues at the Heart Institute and The Ottawa Hospital, Dr. Crean is part of a team combining radiotherapy and cardiology to treat heart disease.

A computerized tomography scan (CT scan for short) uses three-dimensional X-ray technology to create cross-sectional pictures of a patient’s bones, blood vessels and soft tissues. A cardiologist may recommend a scan to detect or monitor a disease or condition of the heart, inform an upcoming procedure or surgery, detect internal injuries, or evaluate the effectiveness of various treatments.

Doctors at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute (UOHI) are now exploring a new application of CT, one that may soon prove useful in the fight to control the spread of coronavirus.

“When a patient with symptoms of COVID-19 is admitted to hospital, it is likely they will receive a CT scan and a nasopharyngeal swab,” says Dr. Andrew Crean, co-director of the cardiac MRI service at the UOHI. But according to Crean, the real question is, What do you do with patients who show up without symptoms of a virus or whose symptoms are very minor?

“We’re increasingly finding quite a proportion of people who test positive for COVID-19 are asymptomatic,” says Crean. “We need to know who these people are – the concern being people who feel well may be presenting to the hospital as unknowing carriers and transmitters of disease.”

Dr. Crean and his colleagues at the UOHI are currently studying the potential for CT scan technology as a first step in detecting positive cases of COVID-19.

The proposal we’re working with now is to offer CT screening to every patient admitted to the Heart Institute, regardless of their medical history or conditions of coronavirus.
– Dr. Andrew Crean, UOHI

“The proposal we’re working with now is to offer CT screening to every patient admitted to the Heart Institute, regardless of their medical history or conditions of coronavirus,” says Crean.

Ground glass opacities observed on X-ray image.
In this chest X-ray image, tiny “ground-glass opacities” are observed and circled in yellow. Ground glass opacities are radiological findings in CT scans that appear as hazy grey blotches that do not obscure the vision of the other structures. Scientists believe these hazy opacities may be indicative of a COVID-19-related pneumonia or lung inflammation caused by the viral infection.

At the moment, the prevalence of the outbreak is quite low in Ottawa when compared to other epicenters like New York, Montreal, Italy and England. As the prevalence of the disease increases in the community, Crean expects the study will highlight more positive carriers.

“The good thing is we’re starting early,” Crean concludes. “The Heart Institute will be well-positioned to detect potential infectors of disease and triage them to receive the best care before they can spread the disease to anyone else.”

COVID-19 resources

Hospitals in cities around the world are moving to cancel or postpone elective surgeries and procedures to prevent the potential spread of the virus. Patients, too, are turning to telehealth alternatives for treatment or advice, avoiding hospitals for fear of catching COVID-19 or unknowingly passing it on to others themselves. It has been reported that heart attack and stroke patients have all but disappeared, part of an unprecedented shift in the demand for hospital services imposed by the pandemic.

On its website, the University of Ottawa Heart Institute is cautioning all who may experience heart-related symptoms not to delay seeking emergency medical assistance. A delay in seeking care could have a lasting impact on the outcome of your treatment.

Download and share this infographic (PDF) developed by the UOHI, and visit this website for helpful COVID-19 updates and resources, tips to keep safe and healthy during the pandemic, and for answers to your frequently asked questions about the virus’s implications on your heart health.

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