A major study led by doctors at the Royal Free London (RFL) reveals that face masks and the use of side rooms to deliver care can dramatically reduce the risk to dialysis patients of contracting COVID-19. 

Dialysis patients are known to be at particular risk of contracting COVID-19 and, if they do, becoming seriously unwell. As such, RFL specialists carried out research involving thousands of dialysis patients in London to understand if there was any way to mitigate the risk.    

The findings of the study reveal that patients who were older, had diabetes, lived in local communities with higher prevalence rates of the virus and those who received dialysis at clinics serving a larger number of patients had a greater risk of developing symptomatic COVID-19. 

Meanwhile patients who received dialysis in clinics with more available side rooms and at clinics that were early adopters of mandatory mask wearing for all patients were at lower risk of developing symptomatic disease.

The study, published by the American Society of Nephrology, was led by Dr Ben Caplin, a renal consultant at the Royal Free Hospital and his colleagues, on behalf of the pan-London COVID-19 renal audit group.

They examined information on 5,755 patients who received dialysis in 51 clinics across London. Many individuals with kidney failure were unable to shield during the pandemic because they required life-saving dialysis treatments in clinics several times a week.

“These findings confirm the high rates of symptomatic COVID-19 among patients receiving in-centre dialysis and suggest sources of transmission both within dialysis units and patients’ home communities,” said Dr Caplin. “The work also suggests that in addition to the isolation of confirmed cases, addressing factors that might reduce transmission from those with asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic covid would also allow us to reduce the risk  of spreading the infection.”

He added: “As we move forward, this research might be useful in helping us think about ways in which we design our buildings and the space where we dialyse patients given the potential for future respiratory infection outbreaks.”

Professor Alan Salama, a renal consultant from the Royal Free Hospital, who also worked on the study, said: “The results proved much of what we suspected, but had never been shown before, and emphasises the benefit of working together with other units, sharing data and information, which has been a real positive from the COVID pandemic. It also highlights the important work that took place to step up and care for this vulnerable cohort of patients.” 

Read the full study here.

(L-R: Professor Alan Salama and Dr Ben Caplin)