Coronavirus – Indirect health consequences of the pandemic

The number of consultations for cancer or emergency room visits for stroke have dropped in the United States for fear of contagion. International agencies are alarmed by other consequences at the global level.

Ambulances in front of the Elmhurst hospital center, in Queens (NY) (pretext image).


This is not good news: the number of cancers discovered in the United States fell by half at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, compared to previous years, a consequence of the postponement of non-urgent consultations and avoidance hospitals for fear of contagion, according to a study published Tuesday.

This is one of the many indirect health consequences of the pandemic. The number of emergency room visits for cardiac arrests, strokes or even appendicitis have apparently also dropped, which ongoing studies are trying to verify.

Essential childhood vaccinations have dropped sharply around the world because of the pandemic, according to the UN, and international agencies are also alarmed at the consequences for the fight against HIV, malaria and tuberculosis, since the screening, logistics chains and access to health centers have been disrupted.

“Cancer doesn’t take a break”

The new US analysis, week by week, published Tuesday in the journal Jama Network Open shows that for six cancers (breast, colorectal, lung, pancreas, gastric and esophagus), the number of diagnoses has fallen by 46% compared to the usual number in March and April. The decline began in the first week of March, before the first containment measures, and stabilized at the end of March at around half of the usual figures.

“Although people have embraced social distancing, cancer is not taking a break,” warn the study’s authors, from the Quest Diagnostics laboratory. “Delays in diagnoses will likely lead to more advanced presentations and more severe clinical outcomes.”

They cite an estimate from researchers at University College London, in a study that has not yet been validated by a scientific journal, of 33,890 additional cancer deaths in the United States due to the pandemic.

Public health time bomb

Other countries, such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, have also warned of the decline in cancer screening, a real public health time bomb for which health authorities must all prepare.

“More recently, we have seen signs that screening rates are starting to return to normal,” said Laura Makaroff of the American Cancer Society on Tuesday. “There are still delays and we have not returned to the pre-pandemic level.”

She adds that some of the screening recommendations are flexible. Thus, in the United States mammograms are recommended every two years for women over 55 without any particular risk factor, and there are also home tests for colorectal cancer.

In any case, adds Laura Makaroff: “If you have any new or worrying symptoms, contact your doctor immediately”.


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