Severe COVID-19 doubles the risk of death within one year of improvement in the study

  • A new study tracked nearly 180 hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Florida for up to a year.
  • Adults with severe COVID-19 were twice as likely as uninfected humans to die within a year.
  • Persistent inflammation can continue to endanger patients’ health.

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Nearly 180 people left the University of Florida’s healthcare system alive after being hospitalized with severe COVID-19 during the United States’ first wave of coronavirus infections. But within a year, more than half of the patients healed had died, according to a study by University of Florida researchers published Wednesday.

The researchers examined more than 13,000 patient records from January to June last year before vaccines were available. They identified 93 patients admitted with severe COVID-19 who died between one and 12 months after being discharged from the hospital – a sign that long-term complications from the disease continued to endanger their health.

The study showed that adults recovering from severe COVID-19 were twice as likely to die as uninfected humans within a year of contracting the disease.

“Many times when people have an infectious disease, they have it, and then the episode ends, and it’s pretty much gone,” Arch Mainous, the study’s lead investigator, told Insider. But COVID-19 is different, he said, “Just because you get out of the hospital, it’s not over.”

Younger adults faced a particularly high risk of long-term health problems: COVID-19 patients under 65, who were originally discharged from the hospital, had three times the risk of dying within a year as uninfected humans.

Adults older than 65 are more likely to succumb to COVID-19 quickly, so many will never reach the recovery stage, Mainous said. Younger adults, on the other hand, are more likely to survive an initial infection, then suffer from persistent symptoms for months or perhaps years to come.

“The inner trauma of having a severe COVID episode is even more evident in these young people,” Mainous said.

Researchers are not sure why COVID-19 patients die from long-term complications, but Mainous has a theory. COVID-19 can ignite a persistent inflammatory reaction, which causes chaos in a person’s organs, even after they have removed the virus, increasing their risk of heart attack,


pneumonia

, kidney failure or stroke.

“We believe there is a huge inflammatory reaction that is systemic and that is why we do not see it localized in just one place,” he said.

COVID-19 was not listed as the cause of death for any of the deceased patients in his study, he added, suggesting that the disease may be even more fatal than available data suggest. For example, a model from The Economist in May suggested that at least half of the world’s COVID-19 deaths had not been reported.

Persistent inflammation can damage the heart, lungs or kidneys

louisiana covid hospital

Clinicians intubate a COVID-19 patient in the intensive care unit of Lake Charles Memorial Hospital in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on August 10th.

Mario Tama / Getty Images


Severe COVID-19 generally results in three adverse health outcomes, Mainous said: blood clots, respiratory problems, and cardiovascular problems.

A January study in The Lancet found that up to 56% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients showed signs of lung problems six months after their first COVID-19 symptoms.

Mainous’ research team found in July that people admitted with severe COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to be readmitted due to health complications from the disease as patients with milder COVID-19. These complications included heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and pulmonary embolism – a blockage in a pulmonary artery caused by a blood clot.

covid memorial

Chris Duncan, whose 75-year-old mother, Constance, died of COVID-19 on her birthday while photographing a COVID Memorial Project installation of 20,000 U.S. flags at the National Mall on September 22, 2020 in Washington, DC.

Find McNamee / Getty Images


Oddly enough, most hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the new study did not die of cardiovascular, respiratory, or coagulation problems. Instead, these conditions represented only 20% of the deaths among hospitalized people who initially recovered from severe COVID-19.

Mainous said an aggressive inflammatory response in some patients could damage organs in addition to the heart and lungs, such as the brain, liver or kidneys.

“There may be some kind of organ system dysregulation that we did not think about and that we do not monitor,” he said.

Being vaccinated, he added, reduces the risk of ending up in the hospital in the first place. COVID-19 vaccines remain extremely effective in preventing serious illness, hospitalization and death.

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