The identification of indicators for severe HFMD is critical for early prevention and control of the disease. With this goal in mind, 185 severe and 345 mild HFMD cases were assessed. Patient demographics, clinical features, MRI findings, and laboratory test results were collected. Gradient boosting tree (GBT) was then used to determine the relative importance (RI) and interaction effects of the variables. Results indicated that elevated white blood cell (WBC) count > 15 × 109/L (RI: 49.47, p < 0.001) was the top predictor of severe HFMD, followed by spinal cord involvement (RI: 26.62, p < 0.001), spinal nerve roots involvement (RI: 10.34, p < 0.001), hyperglycemia (RI: 3.40, p < 0.001), and brain or spinal meninges involvement (RI: 2.45, p = 0.003). Interactions between elevated WBC count and hyperglycemia (H statistic: 0.231, 95% CI: 0-0.262, p = 0.031), between spinal cord involvement and duration of fever ≥3 days (H statistic: 0.291, 95% CI: 0.035-0.326, p = 0.035), and between brainstem involvement and body temperature (H statistic: 0.313, 95% CI: 0-0.273, p = 0.017) were observed. Therefore, GBT is capable to identify the predictors for severe HFMD and their interaction effects, outperforming conventional regression methods.
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