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Infectious Diseases

Updated 13 October 2020

Just like the flu? No, hospitalised Covid-19 patients tend to be younger, and healthier

Researchers involved in a global network study of Covid-19 patient data hope their results will inform decision-making around the care of hospitalised patients.

  • Findings of a recent study show that Covid-19 inpatients tend to be younger and healthier than inpatients with the flu
  • Researchers say this new information can assist with decision-making regarding patient care
  • All patients' information was anonymised throughout the data collection process

A new global network study, which included data of more than 34 000 Covid-19 patients from across three continents, has provided a better understanding of the profiles of hospitalised Covid-19 (the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2) patients.

The study was published this month by the Observational Health Data Sciences and Informatics (OHDSI) community (housed at the Department of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University) and in the journal Nature Communications

"Despite recent discourse around the supposed poor health and limited life expectancy of Covid-19 patients, we see Covid-19 patients to be in no worse health than those typically hospitalised with influenza,” said co-author Edward Burn, a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for Statistics in Medicine (CSM), University of Oxford, UK, in a press statement by Columbia University.

"This further highlights the high rate of mortality among Covid-19 patients," he added.

Hospitalised flu patients versus Covid-19 patients

The results show that patients hospitalised with Covid-19 were more typically male in the US and Spain – but more often female in South Korea.

The ages of patients varied, with the most common age groups in Spain and the US reported to be between 60 to 75.

Patients hospitalised with influenza (flu) were typically older than those hospitalised with Covid-19, and more likely to be female.

Many patients hospitalised due to Covid-19 were seen to have other health conditions, including hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and asthma across data sources.

However, when these data were compared to patients hospitalised with influenza in recent years, researchers discovered that those with Covid-19 were seen to generally be healthier.

Conditions that were more common among those hospitalised with influenza, compared to those hospitalised with Covid-19, included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiovascular disease, and dementia

Data collection and respecting patients’ privacy

All patients’ data were anonymised, explained co-author Seng Chan You, a PhD student at Ajou University, South Korea: “The most interesting part of this study is that it was possible to provide the details of patients' characteristics across institutions without violating their privacy.

"It's important to know this is possible because we don't know what is coming next. When is the next pandemic? Whatever happens, we know we can provide important patient characteristics to allow collaborative global research."

Dr Patrick Ryan, senior co-author of the study and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University, also commented that collaboration between scientists worldwide, and openly shared patient data, allow for reliable Covid-19 patient data that will ultimately assist healthcare workers in important decision-making in the future.

"Describing the baseline demographic, clinical characteristics, treatments and outcomes of Covid-19 patients overall and stratified by sex, age and specific comorbidities will greatly inform decision-making in this pandemic, and we are collaborating globally on these studies," said senior co-author, Daniel Prieto-Alhambra, Professor of Pharmaco- and Device Epidemiology at the University of Oxford.

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