Research

The first year of COVID-19 in Australia: direct and indirect health effects

A new report into the health effects of COVID-19 on Australians during 2020 and early 2021 includes analyses of the years of healthy life lost, international comparisons and impacts on population groups, mental health and the health system.

The first year of COVID-19 in Australia: direct and health effects was released late last week by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).

The report includes data from a range of sources covering 2020 and some which cover up to June 2021. It does not include data from the latest wave of cases that began in June 2021, dominated by infections of the Delta variant.

‘As the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve rapidly and we face challenges such as the emergence of new variants of the virus, it is important we look holistically at the direct and indirect health effects of the pandemic on Australians,’ said AIHW spokesperson Dr. Lynelle Moon.

As at 20 June 2021 there had been over 30,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 910 deaths from the disease.

During the first year of the pandemic, Australia avoided the level of health impacts seen in many other countries, where there were large numbers of severe cases and deaths. ‘We closely compared COVID-19 case and death rates in Australia with four other countries that have similar proportions of people over 65; similar life expectancy at birth; and similar health systems and expenditure on health care,’ Dr. Moon said. ‘If Australia had experienced the same crude case and death rates as Canada, Sweden or the United Kingdom, by early April 2021 there would have been between 680,000 and 2 million cases instead of the 29,000 that did occur, and between 16,000 and 48,000 deaths.'

The report uses burden of disease analysis to look at the number of healthy years of life Australians who contracted COVID-19 may have lost. ‘There were just over 8,400 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost in 2020 from COVID-19 in Australia and 97 per cent of this disease burden was from fatal cases,’ Dr. Moon said.

Certain groups in the Australian population experienced higher rates of severe disease and death from COVID-19 during 2020. During 2020, 7 per cent of all COVID-19 cases in Australia and 75 per cent of all deaths were in people living in residential aged care facilities. And up to early July 2020, it is estimated that health care workers in Australia were 2.7 times as likely to contract COVID-19 as the general community. People in lower socioeconomic areas also suffered higher rates of death than those living in the highest socioeconomic areas (2.6 times).

The report also looked at the mental health impacts of COVID, concluding that the initial impacts appeared to have increased levels of psychological distress, particularly for adults aged 18–45.
Read more: Media release; The first year of COVID-19 in Australia: direct and health effect Summary and Full report [pdf

COVID-19 and patients with mesothelioma

Almost one in five patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma (MPM) at a Barcelona hospital contracted COVID-19 during the pandemic. In addition, those patients suffered a 75 per cent mortality rate, according to research presented during MA04: Current Status and Future Prospects of Pleural Mesothelioma and Thymoma at the IASLC 2021 World Conference on Lung Cancer.

To study the effect of COVID-19 infection on patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma Dr. Susana Cedres of Vall d´Hebron University Hospital and the Institute of Oncology, Barcelona, Spain, analyzed the medical records of 38 patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Dr. Cedres collected clinical data including demographics, comorbidities, oncological background, and COVID-19 illness status. “Of the 38 patients with malignant pleural mesothelioma at our institution in this pandemic era, seven were diagnosed with COVID-19 infection (18 per cent) by a positive RT-PCR,” she reported.

Patients with cancer or thoracic malignancies may be particularly affected by COVID-19. Malignant pleural mesothelioma is an aggressive pleural tumor associated with asbestos exposure and with limited survival despite systemic therapy. 

In a recent study of COVID-19 and mortality in the United States, malignant pleural mesothelioma was significantly associated with increased odds for worse outcomes.  Read more: Mirage news  

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