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Infection with COVID-19 impacts the risk of complications from surgery.

After three years, the world is beginning to stand down from the pandemic.  Lives were lost and permanently altered by the SARS-CoV2 virus now commonly known as COVID.  Vaccines, boosters, immunity, and COVID variants are here to stay as we each assess our risk level and the potential consequences of infection.

It will be many years before SARS-CoV2 is well understood.  The original variant has now mutated many times over and continues to change.  Certain variants are more dangerous, while others are merely more transmissible.  Currently, we know COVID impacts many of the systems and organs of the body and can have lingering physical impacts, called “Long COVID.”

In a recent article published in JAMA Network Open, researchers at Vanderbilt University looked at the electronic health records of 3,997 surgical patients who suffered infection with COVID prior to surgery at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).  Study authors reviewed data between March 2020 through December 2021 for incidence of complications within 30 days after surgery.  Researchers were looking at complications including acute kidney injury, cerebrovascular accident (stroke), heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and of course, death.

 It was already known that patients who undergo surgery following COVID infection are at higher risk of surgical complication. This study explored how long after COVID infection the enhanced risk of surgical complication persisted, and whether it dropped off in time. Study lead, Dr. Robert Freundlich said, “Compared to previous population studies of this issue, ours is distinguished for tracking surgical outcomes more broadly and using a longer time horizon from COVID diagnosis.”

Findings of the study include the following:

  • Looking at the odds of surgical complication, scientists found the odds of complication declined between 10 and 18 percent when surgery occurred more than 100 days following a COVID infection. 
  • Researchers continued to detect a discernable pattern of declining risk even a year following initial diagnosis with COVID. The rate of complications experienced by patients continued to drop to about an eight percent risk of complications by 400 days following COVID infection.
  • The rate of declining risk was not impacted by COVID vaccines received after the initial COVID infection.

Based on the results of their study to date, Dr. Freundlich noted, “As we were midway in our study, based on postoperative pulmonary outcomes one medical society issued a recommendation to delay surgery after COVID-19 by up to 12 weeks in more severe cases of COVID.”

There is a lot yet to learn about COVID.  If you suffer a COVID infection and are a candidate for surgery, speak with your provider about timing to ensure your best outcome, and your lowest risk of surgical complication.

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