More than 55% of hospitalizations for respiratory illnesses during the peak of the pandemic were caused by infections other than SARS-CoV-2, study finds

Expect an increase in the number of non-COVID-19 respiratory infections this winter, scientists say. The warning follows the results of a new study, published in The Lancet Regional Health – Europewhich found that more than 55% of respiratory illness hospitalizations during the peak of the pandemic were caused by infections other than SARS-CoV-2.

The University of Bristol-led study, funded and conducted in collaboration with Pfizer Inc., as part of AvonCAP, is the first to compare the number of hospitalizations for respiratory infections caused by COVID-19 and infections not SARS-CoV-2.

Using data from 135,014 hospital admissions from two major Bristol hospitals between August 2020 and November 2021, researchers identified 12,557 admissions attributable to acute lower respiratory tract disease (aLRTD) with patients admitted with signs or symptoms respiratory infections, including cough, fever, pleurisy, or a clinical or radiological aLRTD diagnosis. Of these, 12,248 (98%) patients, including mostly older adults, consented to participate in the study.

After further analysis, the team shows that of the 12,248 aLRTD hospitalizations, 55% (6,909) were due to infection with no evidence of SARS-CoV-2, while infection confirmed with SARS-CoV- 2 accounted for only 26% (3,178) of respiratory infections. The remaining 17% (2,161) were due to infection without an infectious cause.

Adam Finn, Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Bristol, Director of the Bristol Vaccine Center at Bristol Medical School and Head of Bristol UNCOVER (Bristol COVID Emergency Research Group), said: “What is really surprising from our results , that’s how many other non-COVID respiratory infections there were during this time, other infections clearly didn’t just go away and despite significant public health measures including vaccination and l non-pharmaceutical intervention such as masks, our results show that there was still a high incidence of non-COVID-19 disease causing hospitalizations alongside COVID-19 patients.”

Our results really highlight not only the huge burden of respiratory infections on the NHS and other healthcare systems, but also how bad things could get this winter. It is therefore essential that appropriate health care planning and resource allocation be undertaken to care for patients with respiratory diseases, in addition to the implementation of public health measures to reduce the burden of respiratory diseases and improve patient outcomes.

Dr Catherine Hyams, Study Lead Author, Postdoctoral Clinical Research Fellow and Principal Investigator, University of Bristol

The study is part of AvonCAP, an ongoing collaborative surveillance project funded by Pfizer Inc., which records detailed information about every adult patient admitted to Bristol’s two major NHS hospitals with symptoms, signs and/or x-ray evidence of acute disease in the lungs. .


Journal reference:

Hyams, C. et al. (2022) Incidence of community-acquired lower respiratory tract disease in Bristol, UK, during the COVID-19 pandemic: a prospective cohort study. The Lancet.

Carol N. Valencia