A new study found that the number of alcoholic hepatitis patients who received liver transplants more than tripled during the COVID-19 pandemic. The study, published in JAMA Network Open, was conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. They analyzed data of adults who were on the national liver transplant waiting list between March 1, 2018 and February 28, 2021.
According to MedPage Today, the scientists determined that liver transplants for acute alcohol-associated hepatitis increased a whopping 268.5% compared with the expected number of transplants, and there was a 325% increase in the people waiting for liver transplants with the same alcohol-linked condition.
In actual numbers, their data revealed a monthly increase of 13.11 liver transplants and 18 more people added to the waiting list each month due to acute alcohol-associated hepatitis during the pandemic.
“This is definitely an alarming situation, which is supported by the evidence of increased alcohol consumption reported during the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S.,” said Khalid Mumtaz, who specializes in hepatology at The Ohio State University.
Mumtaz said that increased alcohol consumption is the “collateral damage of COVID-19 due to insecurity, isolation, depression and disquiet brought on by the pandemic,” according to MedPage Today.
A survey conducted by the American Psychological Association found that nearly 1 in 4 Americans coped with the pandemic by drinking more alcohol. Margarita Mondays and wine Wednesdays became buzz words for the virtual happy hours enjoyed during COVID-19 lockdowns.
According to Axios, data from a Nielsen survey found that there was a 54% increase in the sale of alcohol in the U.S. in the week ending March 21, 2020 compared to previous years. And another poll conducted in late 2020 revealed that a whopping 75% of Americans said that their drinking increased.
Experts point out that excessive drinking leads to many health issues as well as social problems. Historically, American drinking habits have spiked after disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, says Axios. But the dangerous difference with the COVID-19 pandemic is that isolation led to a rise of drinking solo, which can exacerbate feelings of depression. Alcohol is also the third leading cause of preventable death, says Axios.
Currently, there are no FDA-approved pharmaceutical interventions or treatments for acute alcohol-associated hepatitis, which has a 30% mortality rate a year after diagnosis. For these patients, a liver transplant is the only hope.
But Dr. Therese Bitterman and her colleagues from the University of Pennsylvania warned that the recent recipients “will require intensive longitudinal disciplinary care to reduce their risk of alcohol relapse and ensure successful outcomes.”
The researchers examined data on 32,217 American adults from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) who were waiting for liver transplants. They compared the rates of transplants and wait lists before the pandemic between the months of March 2018 to February 2020 to those during the pandemic between March 2020 to February 2021.
Overall, they identified 606 adults with acute alcoholic hepatitis who were mostly white males, according to MedPage Today.
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