Although they may not be hospitalized due to respiratory diseases, “we are seeing some worsening of other conditions in individuals who are vulnerable,” said Dr. Sandra Nelson, a specialist in infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. In some cases, patients were dehydrated due to the effects of a viral infection and came in with kidney failure.
Doctors say it is not always clear what role Omicron plays, but there is a plausible biological explanation for a virus causing patients to develop systemic problems. “You’re going to see the kidneys get worse, etc.,” said Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a specialist in critical care and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine.
At St. Luke’s, where Ms. Perez was hospitalized, had about two-thirds of the coronavirus-positive patients in the system network a primary diagnosis of Covid, but another 15 to 20 percent were diagnosed with other diseases, such as sepsis or acute kidney failure, which doctors said were clearly related to a viral infection.
“It’s not a random diagnosis,” said Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, an infectious disease specialist who is senior vice president of medical and academic affairs at St. Luke’s University Health Network, which operates 11 hospitals in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
In some cases, these patients may have had a “smoldering” case of diabetes or hypertension, which a Covid case pushed into serious illness, said Dr. Nicholas Kman, an emergency physician at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. In other cases, people who had successfully managed their conditions before they became infected, such as Ms. Perez, come in with high blood sugar levels or worrying hypertension.
Others, such as transplant or cancer patients – even if fully vaccinated – are unable to build up an adequate immune response to protect themselves from serious illness when infected.
Doctors say these admissions – often categorized as “with” Covid rather than “for” Covid – have had significant effects on stressed hospitals. “All of these patients increase the increase and volume,” said Dr. Kman and added that “one or two additional patients can push a healthcare system over the edge.”