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  • Ryan Wittler

Dialysis Patients Are the Pandemic’s “Perfect Victims”

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A new analysis by ProPublica has found that the pandemic killed so many dialysis patients that their population shrank for the first time since the U.S. began tracking the data in the 1970s.

Some highlights:

In 2020, nearly 18,000 more dialysis patients died than would have been expected in previous years, a “staggering” 20% increase from 2019, when over 96,000 dialysis patients died, according to recently released federal data.

According to ProPublica, the figure is particularly disheartening considering that while rates of diagnoses for end stage renal disease (a.k.a. “kidney failure”) have been on the rise, death rates have steadily declined since the early 2000s.

What caused it?

The analysis called dialysis patients “COVID-19’s perfect victims.” Due to treatment logistics, many were forced to leave their homes (some patients get in-home treatment, which also comes with a higher success rate) and get treated at crowded dialysis centers. Once there, they’d spend the next three or four hours in a large room with staff and several other patients.

According to ProPublica, the fear of COVID led patients to delay dialysis treatments, and for a population whose life expectancy is already around three decades shorter than the general population, skipping treatments was disastrous.

According to the analysis, hospitalizations of dialysis patients for reasons unrelated to COVID (including complications from skipping treatments) dropped by 33% between late March and April 2020. Over the same period, the rate of hospitalizations of dialysis patients for COVID was 40 times higher than the general population.

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