New York - Researchers have found that the number of heart transplants is declining sharply during the Covid-19 pandemic, even in areas with lower infection rates.
The study, published in the journal JAMA Cardiology, found that the number of heart transplants performed in the US dropped 26 per cent during the pandemic.
The drop in transplants was similar across regions and occurred even in areas with lower infection rates.
"We were surprised to see a decline in heart transplants in other parts of the country, where there were far fewer COVID-19 cases at that time," said study researcher Ersilia DeFilippis from Columbia University in the US.
"Our data show that this pandemic has had far-reaching impacts on the care of our patients with advanced heart failure are receiving," DeFilippis added.
At the beginning of the pandemic, clinicians had to weigh the risks of exposing medically fragile patients with heart failure, though well enough to remain at home, to SARS-CoV-2 infection with the risks of delaying a life-changing surgery.
The research team found that many clinicians reacted by taking their patients off the waitlist-- a measure typically pursued when a patient encounters a health issue that temporarily or permanently disqualifies them for transplantation.
It was expanded during the pandemic to include patients at risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection and to accommodate transplant centres that deferred acceptance of donor organs due to the pandemic.
They found that waitlist inactivations increased 75 per cent during the pandemic, driven largely by the Northeast. At the same time, 37 per cent fewer people were placed on heart transplant waitlists during the pandemic, with the most significant decreases occurring in the Northeast, the Great Lakes region, and the Southwest.
In addition, the researchers found that the availability of donor's hearts decreased by 26 Aper cent during the Covid-19 period compared with the pre-Covid-19 period.
"It is possible that limited access to testing for donors as well as restrictions on organ procurement organizations may have contributed to the decrease we observed in donor recovery," DeFilippis said.
Next, the researchers plan to study the impact of these changes on patient survival while on the transplant waitlist and post-transplant survival.
"As the pandemic continues, we must be mindful of the effects of these delays on our patients," the study authors noted. (agency)