Newswise — PHILADELPHIA— In addition to sickening and taking the lives of millions across the globe, COVID-19 complicated patient care in a range of less-direct ways, from increased incidence of heart attacks to decreased cancer screenings. The virus also increased the risk of complications and death among trauma patients with injuries from car crashes, falls or other accidents, or who were victims of violent injuries such as gunshots and stabbings, according to new research conducted by the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania published recently in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Surgery.

The findings reveal that patients in trauma centers across the state of Pennsylvania who also tested positive for COVID-19 had six times higher risk of death than patients with similar injuries without COVID. COVID-positive patients also demonstrated double the likelihood of complications such as venous thromboembolism, renal failure, need for intubation, and unplanned ICU admission, as well as more than five times the odds of pulmonary complications. These risks were even greater in patients over age 65.

“COVID-19 had the largest impact on patients whose injuries were relatively minor, and who we would have otherwise expected to do well,” said lead author Elinore Kaufman, MD, MSHP, an assistant professor in the Division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Emergency Surgery at Penn Medicine. “Our findings underscore how important it is for hospitals to consistently test admitted patients, so that providers can be aware of this additional risk and treat patients with extra care and vigilance.”

Researchers conducted a retrospective study of 15,550 patients admitted to Pennsylvania trauma centers from March 21, 2020, (when Governor Tom Wolf ordered the closure of non-essential businesses statewide) to July 31, 2020. Of the 15,550 patients, 8,170 were tested for the virus, and 219 tested positive. During this period, the researchers evaluated length of stay, complications, and overall outcomes for patients who tested positive for COVID, compared to patients who did not have the virus. They found that rates of testing increased over time, from 34 percent in April 2020 to 56 percent in July. Rates of testing varied substantially across centers, however, with a median of 56.2 percent and a range of 0 percent to 96.4 percent.

“First, we need to investigate how to best care for these high-risk patients, and establish standard protocols to minimize risks,” said senior author Niels D. Martin, MD, chief of Surgical Critical Care and an associate professor in the division of Trauma, Surgical Critical Care and Emergency Surgery. “Second, we need more data on the risks associated with patients who present symptoms of COVID, versus those who are asymptomatic, so we can administer proven treatments appropriately and increase the likelihood of survival with minimal complications.”

This research was supported by the Pennsylvania Trauma Systems Foundation.

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Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.9 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $496 million awarded in the 2020 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.

Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 44,000 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2020, Penn Medicine provided more than $563 million to benefit our community.

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