American Society of Nephrology warns of surging demand for dialysis due to COVID-19 induced kidney failure

FILE - Annie Gibson, a hemodialysis nurse, left, attends to a COVID-19 patient Rue Arnwine Jr. who is on dialysis at Desert Cities Dialysis. Victorville, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A recent report from the American Society of Nephrology says that 20-30% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 develop kidney failure, leading to a surge in demand for dialysis.

"Hospitals need to be prepared to augment dialysis capacity in order to provide effective care to patients with COVID-19 and stringent measures should be adopted to protect the frail dialysis population from COVID-19 infection," said Professor Carmine Zoccali, president of the European Renal Association-European Dialysis and Transplant Association.

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A separate study from Mount Sinai Hospital System in New York published in May found that kidney injuries were common in coronavirus patients.

Researchers found that 46% of 3,235 patients who were admitted to the hospital between Feb. 27 and April 15, 2020 for COVID-19 reported some form of acute kidney injury and 17% required urgent dialysis. 

The National Kidney Foundation said that acute kidney injury (AKI) is not the same as chronic kidney disease, which eventually leads to chronic kidney failure, but the American Kidney Fund said that some people may experience lasting kidney damage from AKI if it is not detected immediately.

Most coronavirus patients who recover from AKI associated with COVID-19 continue to have low kidney function even after being discharged from the hospital, according to the National Kidney Foundation. 

“It’s recommended that recovered COVID-19 patients who had an AKI should be seen regularly by a kidney doctor, because their risk of developing chronic kidney disease is higher than others,” the National Kidney Foundation said.

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According to the foundation, some effects from the coronavirus that are thought to contribute to AKI include: 

  • septic shock
  • microinflammation
  • increased blood clotting
  • probable direct infection of the kidney

A report from the peer-reviewed American Journal of Managed Care states that patients who need dialysis make up 1% of the Medicare population, but account for 7% of the costs. An estimated 37 million adults suffer from some form of kidney disease.

“A significant number of patients going into the hospital to be treated for COVID-19 are coming out as kidney patients,” Kevin Longino, CEO of the National Kidney Foundation and a kidney transplant patient, said in a statement to the National Kidney Foundation. “We believe this may be a looming health care crisis that will put a greater strain on hospitals, dialysis clinics and patients, for whom chronic kidney disease will be a lasting remnant of the Coronavirus crisis—even after a vaccine is hopefully found.”

A May survey from the foundation found that only 1 in 5 Americans are aware that the coronavirus can lead to kidney failure. The survey was conducted from May 1-2, consisting of a nationally representative sample of 2,039 adults.