Background Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory viral illness causing pneumonia and systemic disease. Abnormalities in pulmonary function tests (PFT) after COVID-19 infection have been described. The determinants of these abnormalities are unclear. We hypothesized that inflammatory biomarkers and CT scan parameters at the time of infection would be associated with abnormal gas transfer at short term follow-up. Methods We retrospectively studied subjects who were hospitalized for COVID-19 pneumonia and discharged. Serum inflammatory biomarkers, CT scan and clinical characteristics were assessed. CT images were evaluated by Functional Respiratory Imaging with automated tissue segmentation algorithms of the lungs and pulmonary vasculature. Volumes of the pulmonary vessels that were ≤5mm (BV5), 5-10mm (BV5_10), and ≥10mm (BV10) in cross sectional area were analyzed. Also the amount of opacification on CT (ground glass opacities). PFT were performed 2-3 months after discharge. The diffusion capacity of carbon monoxide (DLCO) was obtained. We divided subjects into those with a DLCO <80% predicted (Low DLCO) and those with a DLCO ≥80% predicted (Normal DLCO). Results 38 subjects were included in our cohort. 31 out of 38 (81.6%) subjects had a DLCO<80% predicted. The groups were similar in terms of demographics, body mass index, comorbidities, and smoking status. Hemoglobin, inflammatory biomarkers, spirometry and lung volumes were similar between groups. CT opacification and BV5 were not different between groups, but both Low and Normal DLCO groups had lower BV5 measures compared to healthy controls. BV5_10 and BV10 measures were higher in the Low DLCO group compared to the normal DLCO group. Both BV5_10 and BV10 in the Low DLCO group were greater compared to healthy controls. BV5_10 was independently associated with DLCO<80% in multivariable logistic regression (OR 1.29, 95% CI 1.01, 1.64). BV10 negatively correlated with DLCO% predicted (r = -0.343, p = 0.035). Conclusions Abnormalities in pulmonary vascular volumes at the time of hospitalization are independently associated with a low DLCO at follow-up. There was no relationship between inflammatory biomarkers during hospitalization and DLCO. Pulmonary vascular abnormalities during hospitalization for COVID-19 may serve as a biomarker for abnormal gas transfer after COVID-19 pneumonia.
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