Is It Safe to Have Surgery Soon After a COVID Diagnosis?

WEDNESDAY, March 10, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- If you have surgery scheduled and you just found out you are infected with COVID-19, new research suggests you should push your operation back by at least seven weeks.

Why? Because not doing so could raise your risk of postoperative death, British scientists warn.

"We found that patients operated [on] 0 to 6 weeks after SARS-CoV-2 infection diagnosis are at increased risk of postoperative death, as were patients with ongoing symptoms at the time of surgery," said study author Dr. Dmitri Nepogodiev, from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

"We recommend that whenever possible surgery should be delayed for at least seven weeks after a positive SARS-CoV-2 test result, or until symptoms resolve if patients have ongoing symptoms for seven weeks or more after diagnosis," Nepogodiev added.

To come to that conclusion, the team analyzed data from more than 140,000 patients who had surgery at more than 1,600 hospitals in 116 countries in October 2020. Patients who became infected with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) after their surgery were excluded from the study.

Death rates in the 30 days after surgery were: 1.5% among those without coronavirus infection; 4% among patients who had surgery within four weeks after SARS-CoV-2 infection diagnosis; 3.6% among those who had surgery at five to six weeks after infection diagnosis; and 1.5% among those who had surgery seven to eight weeks after infection diagnosis.

The results were consistent across age groups, patient fitness levels, elective and emergency procedures, and minor and major surgery.

After a delay of seven weeks or more, surgery patients with ongoing COVID-19 symptoms had a higher death rate (6%) than those whose symptoms had resolved (2.4%) or those who had been asymptomatic (1.3%).

The study was published March 9 in the journal Anaesthesia.

"Decisions regarding delaying surgery should be tailored for each patient, since the possible advantages of delaying surgery for at least seven weeks following SARS-CoV-2 diagnosis must be balanced against the potential risks of delay. For some urgent surgeries, for example for advanced tumors, surgeons and patients may decide that the risks of delay are not justified," study author Aneel Bhangu, from the University of Birmingham, said in a journal news release.

Dr. Mike Nathanson, president of the Association of Anaesthetists, said, "This paper provides important information to patients and their carers and will help them determine the right time for surgery after a COVID-19 infection. Of the millions of patients now waiting for surgery, many will have had COVID-19 and they will want to be informed about the risks."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCE: Anaesthesia, news release, March 9, 2021

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