Dialysis patients four times more likely to die from COVID-19 infection


LONDON, ON - Patients in Ontario with chronic kidney conditions who require dialysis have a significantly increased likelihood of contracting and dying from COVID-19, new research from Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute has shown. Study author Dr. Peter Blake says the research emphasizes the need to prioritize dialysis patients for vaccination. 

Published in CMAJ, the study shows that of the more than 12,000 patients undergoing long-term dialysis in Ontario, 187 patients became infected with SARS-CoV-2 between March and August 2020. Of the patients who were infected, 60 per cent needed to be hospitalized and nearly 30 per cent died. That’s almost four times the mortality rate from COVID-19 than the general population.

The researchers continued to collect data into the second wave of the pandemic, and report that as of the end of January 2021, a further 424 dialysis patients were diagnosed with COVID-19, equivalent to 4.5 per cent of all dialysis patients in the province, and that 130 have now died. 

“Early reports from Wuhan and Milan showed chronic dialysis patients were vulnerable to COVID-19, and that’s why we decided to undertake this study,” said Dr. Blake, Professor at Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Associate Scientist at Lawson. “We were surprised to see that both the mortality rate and hospitalization rate were so high here in Ontario.”

The researchers also found that patients who regularly underwent dialysis at the hospital, rather than at home, were at far greater risk of COVID-19 infection; and point out that only a quarter of dialysis patients in Ontario currently have at-home dialysis.

“As the pandemic proceeds, focused efforts should be made to protect this vulnerable group of individuals from infection,” said Dr. Blake. “We also encourage patients to take at-home dialysis whenever possible to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19.” 

The data for the study was collected by the Ontario Renal Network, which developed a weekly surveillance data collection tool to gather key information about chronic dialysis patients during the pandemic.


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About Lawson Health Research Institute

Lawson Health Research Institute is one of Canada’s top hospital-based research institutes, tackling the most pressing challenges in health care. As the research institute of London Health Sciences Centre and St. Joseph’s Health Care London, our innovation happens where care is delivered. Lawson research teams are at the leading-edge of science with the goal of improving health and the delivery of care for patients. Working in partnership with Western University, our researchers are encouraged to pursue their curiosity, collaborate often and share their discoveries widely. Research conducted through Lawson makes a difference in the lives of patients, families and communities around the world. To learn more, visit www.lawsonresearch.ca.

About Western

Western delivers an academic experience second to none. Since 1878, The Western Experience has combined academic excellence with life-long opportunities for intellectual, social and cultural growth in order to better serve our communities. Our research excellence expands knowledge and drives discovery with real-world application. Western attracts individuals with a broad worldview, seeking to study, influence and lead in the international community.

About The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry

The Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry at Western University is one of Canada’s preeminent medical and dental schools. Established in 1881, it was one of the founding schools of Western University and is known for being the birthplace of family medicine in Canada. For more than 130 years, the School has demonstrated a commitment to academic excellence and a passion for scientific discovery. 

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