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Leading risk factors for COVID-19 hospitalization studied

DANVILLE — Geisinger professionals took it upon themselves to gather a group of professors and researchers to study what the highest risks for COVID-19 hospitalization are during the first wave starting in March and studying through May. What they found to be true is that kidney disease, which often comes with a multitude of other negative complications, happens to be the leading risk factor for hospitalization due to the virus.

Tooraj Mirshahi, senior author and associate professor in the department of Molecular and Functional Genomics, Dr. Alex Chang, co-author, code director of the Kidney Health Institute, researcher and assistant professor and Matthew Oetjens, co-author, researcher and assistant professor worked together with a large group of other researchers and authors from various different specialities to nail down the details of what diseases and complications could mean more of a risk of being hospitalized with the virus.

“We knew that some people were doing more poorly than others… why was that?” Mirshahi said. “We put a team together to ask that very question and to identify the people who are at the highest risk.”

The professionals took the data gathered from the beginning of the pandemic through their online charting system and started studying to find out what the exact risk factors are that could land a COVID patient hospitalized.

“We had a list of all of the diagnoses on all of the records: respiratory issues, blood disorders, anything,” Oetjens said. “We narrowed it down to 313 diseases that could have the physical power for increased risk of hospitalization. Kidney Disease was a very strong risk factor.”

Kidney disease tends to come with a multitude of other complications including: having to be on dialysis, increased inflammation, decreased immune response, and much more according to Chang.

Other recorded high risk factors included: type two diabetes, respiratory diseases and cancer, however there was more relative risk with kidney disease as it is less prevalent in the communities.

“It (kidney disease) stood out amongst a large group of other diseases,”Oetjens said.

“It (the study) had so many moving parts,” Mirshahi said. “Bringing a diverse group of people together really helped. When COVID cases started going up in the United States, Geisinger was pretty diligent. We had pretty good testing capacity and lab medicine had been able to put materials together quickly.”

He added that the scientists within the lab were able to manage all of the data and maintain the information for researchers to then study.

“It was critical,” Mirshahi continued. “Our study makes it clear that we need an integrated approach to study something like COVID.”

“The key is preventative measures,” Dr. Chang added. “Masking and distancing is more important than ever. We need to prioritize the diseases that are high risk, that is important for vaccination.”

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