It’s safe to say that most Americans are aware of COVID-19, and at least some of its more common symptoms — including fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Many people are also aware of some of its potentially severe complications, including pneumonia and severe respiratory difficulty. But one potential complication of severe COVID-19 isn’t on most people’s radar, according to a recent survey from the National Kidney Foundation.
As noted in a press release by the group, only a small fraction of survey respondents were aware of the risk of acute kidney injury due to COVID-19, or the long-term effects of kidney damage. Just 17% were aware of this risk, while 58% were aware of the risk of acute respiratory failure, 54% were aware of the risk of pneumonia, and 52% were aware of the risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome — an often fatal condition in which fluid fills the air sacs of your lungs and causes your blood oxygen level to plummet.
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Other conditions that flew mostly under survey respondents’ radar included septic shock with 16% awareness, and acute liver injury with 15% awareness.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, acute kidney injury has been seen in about 15% of all people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the United States. The odds go up if you require admission to an intensive care unit (ICU), with 20% or more of these patients losing kidney function. Many people with acute kidney injury require dialysis to replace normal kidney function, and hospitals generally weren’t prepared for this increased need — in contrast to the way that many hospitals arranged for greater access to ventilators (breathing machines) before the need for them actually increased.
Many hospitals are now grappling with shortages of dialysis equipment, along with medical professionals who are trained to administer dialysis in the ICU setting — since this requires taking many precautions that aren’t needed for someone undergoing outpatient dialysis. Many people who require dialysis due to COVID-19 have no previous history of kidney disease, the National Kidney Foundation notes.
When it comes to the long-term effects of kidney damage, just 46% of survey respondents knew that COVID-19 is likely to increase the number of people with chronic kidney disease or kidney failure in the United States. People with kidney failure require dialysis or a kidney transplant in order to survive, and even with treatment, people with kidney failure often report a significantly reduced quality of life.
Even though they may not have been aware of the kidney risks associated with COVID-19, most survey respondents found agreement when it came to certain solutions. An overwhelming majority of 87% agreed that the federal government should step in to address equipment or supply shortages in COVID-19 “hot spots,” and provide funding for equipment, supplies and medical personnel needed to care for people with ongoing complications from the viral disease. The same number, 87%, believed that the federal government should devote more resources to diagnosing, treating and preventing kidney disease and increase funding for research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on kidney complications from COVID-19.
The survey was conducted on May 1 and 2, 2020, using a nationally representative sample of adults in the United States. Older respondents were more likely to be aware of the risk of kidney injury from COVID-19, with 25% of those over age 65 indicating this — compared to just 10% of those ages 18 to 34. And while support for the federal government stepping in to help hospitals was high across all age groups, it ranged from 94% in those over age 65 to 75% in those ages 18 to 34. Support for greater research funding ranged from 92% in the oldest group to 79% in the youngest.
“A significant number of patients going into the hospital to be treated for COVID-19 are coming out as kidney patients,” notes Kevin Longino, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation. “This may be a looming health care crisis that will put a greater strain on hospitals, dialysis clinics and patients, for whom chronic kidney disease will be a lasting remnant of the coronavirus crisis.”
Want to learn more about coronavirus and diabetes? Read “Coronavirus and Diabetes: What You Need to Know,” “Healthy Eating During Hard Times” and “Avoiding Coronavirus With Diabetes: Stock Up and Stay Home, CDC Says.”