The novel severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has caused a pandemic resulting in over 2.7 million infected individuals and over 190,000 deaths and growing. Assertions in the literature suggest that respiratory disorders due to COVID-19 commonly present with pneumonia-like symptoms which are radiologically confirmed as opacities. Radiology serves as an adjunct to the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction test for confirmation and evaluating disease progression. While computed tomography (CT) imaging is more specific than chest X-rays (CXR), its use is limited due to cross-contamination concerns. CXR imaging is commonly used in high-demand situations, placing a significant burden on radiology services. The use of artificial intelligence (AI) has been suggested to alleviate this burden. However, there is a dearth of sufficient training data for developing image-based AI tools. We propose increasing training data for recognizing COVID-19 pneumonia opacities using weakly labeled data augmentation. This follows from a hypothesis that the COVID-19 manifestation would be similar to that caused by other viral pathogens affecting the lungs. We expand the training data distribution for supervised learning through the use of weakly labeled CXR images, automatically pooled from publicly available pneumonia datasets, to classify them into those with bacterial or viral pneumonia opacities. Next, we use these selected images in a stage-wise, strategic approach to train convolutional neural network-based algorithms and compare against those trained with non-augmented data. Weakly labeled data augmentation expands the learned feature space in an attempt to encompass variability in unseen test distributions, enhance inter-class discrimination, and reduce the generalization error. Empirical evaluations demonstrate that simple weakly labeled data augmentation (Acc: 0.5555 and Acc: 0.6536) is better than baseline non-augmented training (Acc: 0.2885 and Acc: 0.5028) in identifying COVID-19 manifestations as viral pneumonia. Interestingly, adding COVID-19 CXRs to simple weakly labeled augmented training data significantly improves the performance (Acc: 0.7095 and Acc: 0.8889), suggesting that COVID-19, though viral in origin, creates a uniquely different presentation in CXRs compared with other viral pneumonia manifestations.
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