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Coronavirus: Seriously ill hospital patients could suffer delirium and confusion, suggests study

Patients who stay in hospital for long periods are most at risk, according to the study

Matt Mathers
Tuesday 19 May 2020 09:54 BST
Coronavirus death toll at 34,796, an increase of 160 deaths

Delirium and confusion could be common among seriously ill hospital patients with Covid-19, a new study suggests.

Researchers in the UK and Italy found evidence of confusion and agitation in more than 60 per cent of intensive care patients with the virus in a small number of cases, mostly from China, the epicentre of the outbreak.

The findings, published in The Lancet science journal, suggest that patients who have long stays in intensive care and receive ventilation treatment are at greater risk.

The research, based on studies of patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle-East respiratory syndrome (Mers), as well early data on Covid-19 patients, reveals that those with mild symptoms are unlikely to be affected by mental health conditions.

Medics should look for signs of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after recovery to help those Covid-19 patients who may have been suffering from delirium, the researchers say.

They are particularly concerned about PTSD. This is because previous research found that 33 per cent survivors of Sars and Mers became ill PTSD two years after recovering from their respiratory illness.

Patients recovering from Sars or Mers also reported recalling traumatic memories, memory problems, fatigue, insomnia and low mood, the research shows.

Despite the findings, researchers say more studies are needed to analyse the impact Covid-19 is having on the mental health of patients infected with the disease.

“Our analysis of more than 3,550 coronavirus cases suggests that most people will not suffer from mental health problems following coronavirus infection”, said Dr Jonathan Rogers from University College London, who co-led the research.

Dr Rogers cautioned that delirium – which can cover everything from patients hallucinating to sitting completely still – could affect some coronavirus patients.

Confusion is not uncommon among intensive care patients, Dr Rogers, told the BBC, but is could hitter older, more vulnerable patients hardest.

A separate UK study, not yet peer-reviewed, found that 20 per cent of people admitted to hospital with the virus had confusion, suggesting that longer hospital stays, where patients had little contact with visitors, increased the risk.

Commenting on the study, Dr Iris Sommer from the University Medical Centre, Groningen, in the Netherlands, said coronavirus patients requiring ICU treatment are most at risk from delerium.

She also said isolation and the poor economic outlook post-lockdown could pose mental health issues for recovering patients.

Meanwhile, on Monday the government updated its Covid-19 symptoms list to include a loss or changed sense of smell or taste.

Deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van Tam said the addition would mean identifying up to 3 per cent more cases of the virus in the community.

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