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Patients who survive a severe case of COVID-19 are more than twice as likely to die during the following year than those who have mild symptoms and those who haven’t been infected, according to a new study published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Medicine.
The increased risk was greater for patients under 65, the study found. Only 20% of the deaths from severe COVID-19 resulted from typical coronavirus complications, such as respiratory failure.
That means serious coronavirus infections may significantly damage long-term health and lead to major life-threatening issues later.
“We conducted a previous study that showed that patients with severe COVID-19 who recovered were at significantly greater risk of being hospitalized in the subsequent six months. This new study extended that to investigate mortality risk over the next 12 months,” Arch Mainous, PhD, the lead study author at the University of Florida, told The Guardian.
The research team analyzed the electronic health records of more than 13,000 patients who were tested for COVID-19 within the University of Florida health system. Among those, 178 patients had severe virus symptoms and were hospitalized within the first 30 days of testing positive. Another 246 patients had mild or moderate symptoms, and the rest tested negative. All patients included in the study recovered from COVID-19.
Patients who had the most severe symptoms had a 2.5 times higher chance of dying during the next year than those who tested negative and a 1.9 times greater risk than those with mild symptoms. For patients under age 65, the risk increased to 3.3 times higher, as compared to those who tested negative, and 2.8 times higher, as compared to those with mild symptoms.
About 20% of the deaths were for respiratory or cardiovascular causes, which are typically linked with coronavirus complications. The risk of death from respiratory disease was 4.5 times higher for those with severe COVID-19, as compared to those who tested negative. Similarly, the risk of death from heart issues was 3 times higher.
The other 80% of the deaths stemmed from a wide variety of reasons that aren’t typically associated with the coronavirus. Patients likely had an overall decline in their health that left them vulnerable to other illnesses and diseases, the study authors said.
“Since we now know that there is a substantial risk of dying from what would likely be considered to be an unrecognized complication of COVID-19, we need to be even more vigilant in decreasing severe episodes of COVID-19,” Mainous said.
The patients often died long after the coronavirus infection had passed, the study authors found. The deaths may not have been linked to COVID-19 by the patients’ families or doctors.
“Taking your chances and hoping for successful treatment in the hospital doesn’t convey the full picture of the impact of COVID-19,” Mainous said. “Our recommendation at this point is to use preventive measures, such as vaccination, to prevent severe episodes of COVID-19.”