Deaths Months After Covid Point to Pandemic’s Grim Aftermath

Deaths Months After Covid Point to Pandemic’s Grim Aftermath

Covid-19’s deadly effects manifest long after some patients leave the hospital, according to a new study that points to the pandemic’s grave aftermath. 

Hospitalized patients who survived at least a week after being discharged were more than twice as likely to die or be admitted again within months, scientists from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Oxford found. The Covid survivors also had an almost five times greater risk of dying in the following 10 months than a sample taken from the general population.

The findings, published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Medicine, add to evidence that the pandemic’s effects on health and wellbeing extend well beyond an initial infection. A Dutch study on Monday showed that three-quarters of Covid patients treated in intensive care were still suffering fatigue, impaired fitness and other physical symptoms a year later, and one in four reported anxiety and other mental symptoms.

Deaths Months After Covid Point to Pandemic’s Grim Aftermath

“Covid-19 isn’t just an acute respiratory viral illness -- like a cold or some other inconsequential infection -- that goes away in a few days or a few weeks,” said Ziyad Al-Aly, director of the clinical epidemiology center at the Veterans Affairs St. Louis Health Care System in Missouri, who has led similar studies in the U.S. “It carries serious long-term consequences, including higher risk of death.”

To help clarify the long-term health risks for survivors, epidemiologist Krishnan Bhaskaran and colleagues focused on those who had been hospitalized for the disease. The researchers conducted a statistical analysis of electronic health records from almost 25,000 patients who had been hospitalized for Covid in 2020, and more than 100,000 members of the general population for comparison. To account for risks after hospitalization for an infectious disease, the scientists also compared data from more than 15,000 people who were hospitalized for influenza from 2017 to 2019. 

Compared with flu patients, those who had Covid had a greater risk of hospital readmission or death resulting from their initial infection, from dementia and more broadly from any cause.

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“Our findings suggest that people who have had a severe case of Covid-19 requiring a hospital stay are at substantially elevated risk of experiencing further health problems in the months after their hospitalization,” Bhaskaran said in a statement. “Our findings also highlight the importance of getting vaccinated.”

Adults under 65 who were hospitalized with Covid were 233% more likely to die over the following year compared with their uninfected counterparts, researchers at the University of Florida in Gainesville showed in a study last month. Of the deaths that occurred in the post-Covid patients, almost 80% were due to causes other than respiratory or cardiovascular complications.

“Covid is likely causing a pretty severe trauma to people,” said Arch Mainous, vice chair for research in the university’s department of community health and family medicine, who led the research. 

Screening protocols aimed at identifying Covid survivors at risk of kidney damage, blood-clotting disorders and other significant medical conditions are needed to prevent additional pandemic-related death and disease, Mainous said in an interview.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been tracking the excess number of deaths nationally to help gauge the burden of mortality, including deaths that are directly or indirectly attributed to Covid-19. Looking only at Covid-related deaths that occur in the first weeks after an infection ignores the pandemic’s true toll, said Al-Aly at the VA St. Louis Health-Care System. 

“We are looking at death and disability due to the acute phase of the disease, and that is only the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There is a lot more long-term disease, disability and death that is not being accounted for.”

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