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COVID-19 patients who undergo surgery more likely to die, global study suggests

A global study conducted by international researchers, including one from Western University, suggests that COVID-19 patients who undergo surgery experience worse postoperative outcomes, including death, compared to similar patients who haven't been infected with the virus.

Researchers said mortality rates were disproportionately higher regardless of the type of surgery

The study suggests that the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients who underwent surgery was one in four. Regardless of the type of surgery, the mortality rate was disproportionately higher, researchers suggested.  (MAD.vertise/Shutterstock)

A global study conducted by international researchers, including one from Western University in London, Ont., suggests that COVID-19 patients who undergo surgery experience worse postoperative outcomes, including death, compared to similar patients who haven't been infected with the virus.

The study, published by The Lancet, a peer-reviewed medical journal, was developed by CovidSurg Collaborative. 

Researchers, including Janet Martin, an associate professor at Western University, examined data from more than 1,000 patients in 24 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and North America and found that chances of death and pulmonary complications are higher for COVID-19 patients. 

"Our goal is to achieve optimal patient outcomes. For the first time, we have data from a large study to inform when the benefits from surgery outweigh the risks in patients who may also have COVID-19," Martin said. "This is timely given our need to re-open elective surgery safely during a global pandemic."

Findings showed that the mortality rate of COVID-19 patients who underwent surgery was one in four or 23.8 per cent. Additionally, regardless of the type of surgery, whether elective, emergency, minor or major, the mortality rate was disproportionately higher, the study suggested. 

"We would normally expect mortality for patients having minor or elective surgery to be under one per cent, but our study suggests that in SARS-CoV-2 patients these mortality rates are much higher in both minor surgery (16.3 per cent) and elective surgery (18.9 per cent)," said the study's co-author Aneel Bhangu, a senior lecturer in surgery at the University of Birmingham. 

"In fact, these mortality rates are greater than those reported for even the highest-risk patients before the pandemic," he added.

Researchers also concluded that mortality rates were higher in men compared to women and in patients over the age of 70 versus those who were younger.

In addition to age and sex, the study suggested other risk factors for postoperative death included having severe pre-existing medical problems, undergoing cancer surgery, major procedures as well as emergency surgery.

The study also revealed that a little more than half of the patients developed pulmonary complications within 30 days after surgery. 

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