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

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.