Hospitalization for COVID-19 doubles the risk of dying months later

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LONDON — Needing hospitalization for COVID-19 is already a frightening ordeal in the short-term, but a new study finds it could have even greater consequences later on. Researchers in the United Kingdom have discovered that people needing hospitalization for a coronavirus infection are twice as likely to die or return to the hospital within the next few months.

“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; it is important that patients and their doctors are aware of this so that any problems that develop can be treated as early as possible,” says lead study author Krishnan Bhaskaran, MSc, PhD, a professor of statistical epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, in a media release.

People who recover from a COVID-19 infection may develop complications known as long COVID that range from persistent loss of taste and smell to kidney disease. Hospitalization may worsen a person’s physical and mental health as patients experience memory lapses after being under sedation for mechanical ventilation and staying in bed for weeks or months on end.

Risk of death 5 times higher than the average person

Dr. Bhaskaran’s research team evaluated the long-term health risks for people with COVID-19 who required hospitalization. They looked at medical records from the database OpenSAFELY, which contained data on approximately 25,000 hospital patients discharged after a COVID-19 illness in 2020. The team also compared this data to the medical records of over 100,000 patients hospitalized for reasons other than COVID-19.

Results show people hospitalized for COVID-19 and discharged one week after had double the risk of hospital readmission or death in the next few months. Their risk of death from any cause was almost five times higher than the general population.

Do flu patients face greater risks?

Study authors then compared the mortality risks for hospitalized patients admitted with a COVID-19 infection to people hospitalized for the flu to determine if the elevated risks were specifically due to COVID or if there’s a connection to any infectious disease. The study finds people infected with COVID had a slightly reduced risk of hospitalization or death compared to people suffering from the flu.

However, when you focus on people needing hospitalization for their illness, the risk of death soared in the COVID-19 group. There was also a higher chance of requiring readmission and a greater risk of death from dementia among these patients.

“Our findings also highlight the importance of getting vaccinated, which is the best tool we have for preventing severe COVID-19 in the first place,” Dr. Bhaskaran adds.

The study is published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

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About the Author

Jocelyn Solis-Moreira

Jocelyn is a New York-based science journalist whose work has appeared in Discover Magazine, Health, and Live Science, among other publications. She holds a Master’s of Science in Psychology with a concentration in behavioral neuroscience and a Bachelor’s of Science in integrative neuroscience from Binghamton University. Jocelyn has reported on several medical and science topics ranging from coronavirus news to the latest findings in women’s health.

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