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In PeerJ

Background and aim : COVID-19 can be presented with various gastrointestinal symptoms. Shortly after the pandemic outbreak, several machine learning algorithms were implemented to assess new diagnostic and therapeutic methods for this disease. The aim of this study is to assess gastrointestinal and liver-related predictive factors for SARS-CoV-2 associated risk of hospitalization.

Methods : Data collection was based on a questionnaire from the COVID-19 outpatient test center and from the emergency department at the University Hospital in combination with the data from internal hospital information system and from a mobile application used for telemedicine follow-up of patients. For statistical analysis SARS-CoV-2 negative patients were considered as controls in three different SARS-CoV-2 positive patient groups (divided based on severity of the disease). The data were visualized and analyzed in R version 4.0.5. The Chi-squared or Fisher test was applied to test the null hypothesis of independence between the factors followed, where appropriate, by the multiple comparisons with the Benjamini Hochberg adjustment. The null hypothesis of the equality of the population medians of a continuous variable was tested by the Kruskal Wallis test, followed by the Dunn multiple comparisons test. In order to assess predictive power of the gastrointestinal parameters and other measured variables for predicting an outcome of the patient group the Random Forest machine learning algorithm was trained on the data. The predictive ability was quantified by the ROC curve, constructed from the Out-of-Bag data. Matthews correlation coefficient was used as a one-number summary of the quality of binary classification. The importance of the predictors was measured using the Variable Importance. A 2D representation of the data was obtained by means of Principal Component Analysis for mixed type of data. Findings with the p-value below 0.05 were considered statistically significant.

Results : A total of 710 patients were enrolled in the study. The presence of diarrhea and nausea was significantly higher in the emergency department group than in the COVID-19 outpatient test center. Among liver enzymes only aspartate transaminase (AST) has been significantly elevated in the hospitalized group compared to patients discharged home. Based on the Random Forest algorithm, AST has been identified as the most important predictor followed by age or diabetes mellitus. Diarrhea and bloating have also predictive importance, although much lower than AST.

Conclusion : SARS-CoV-2 positivity is connected with isolated AST elevation and the level is linked with the severity of the disease. Furthermore, using the machine learning Random Forest algorithm, we have identified the elevated AST as the most important predictor for COVID-19 related hospitalizations.

Lipták Peter, Banovcin Peter, Rosoľanka Róbert, Prokopič Michal, Kocan Ivan, Žiačiková Ivana, Uhrik Peter, Grendar Marian, Hyrdel Rudolf


Artificial intelligence, COVID-19, Hospitalization, Liver, Machine learning, Predictors, Random forest, SARS-CoV-2, Symptoms