Coronavirus: High death rates found among those with liver disease who develop COVID-19

Liver disease patients who develop coronavirus have been shown to be at high risk of death in new data published today from an international registry. More than a third – 36 percent of patients with cirrhosis who developed the virus died. The rates of death in patients with liver disease are much higher than those observed in the general population, where studies predict between 3-4 percent of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 die.


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The British Liver Trust is calling for the Government to include those with the most severe form of liver disease in the guidance for ‘extremely vulnerable’ people so that they follow the shielding advice and get access to support from their local authority.

The new findings have come from a collaborative international registry co-ordinated by the University of Oxford (UK) and the University of North Carolina (USA).

Dr Thomas Marjot, who leads the team alongside Professor Ellie Barnes said, “Until now, we have known very little about the effects of coronavirus in patients with pre-existing liver disease.

“This multi-centre study suggests that people with liver disease who develop COVID-19 have poor outcomes.

“The severity of underlying liver disease seems to predict poor outcome, with the most vulnerable patients being those with decompensated cirrhosis.

“We also show that contracting the virus may lead to a deterioration in liver function and therefore those coming into hospital with worsening symptoms of liver disease should be tested for coronavirus as soon as possible.”

The last month has seen the British Liver Trust’s nurse-led helpline receive 155 percent more calls than at the same time last year.

Many of these are from people with decompensated cirrhosis who are confused about whether they should be shielding, said the charity.

Professor Stephen Ryder, Medical Advisor to the British Liver Trust said, “Coronavirus is a new disease and we are still learning every day about the risks.

“As the UK begins to relax lockdown, this new data suggests that we need to make sure that everyone with liver disease continues to protect themselves from this virus by strictly following social distancing measures and that those with ‘decompensated liver disease’ follow the stricter shielding advice.

“It’s also important to recognise that although these results are really worrying for liver disease patients they don’t apply to everyone.

“Doctors often only submit data to the registry for the most serious cases they see. Many other people who have contracted the virus at home, may have recovered and will not be in these records.”


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The British Liver Trust is taking the issue of why decompensated liver disease patients are not included with the Government to seek further clarification.

In the meantime, if patients are concerned about their own situation, they should contact their own liver specialist to obtain specific advice from them.

How do you know if you have liver disease?

Most types of liver disease don’t cause any symptoms in the early stages, according to the NHS.

But once you start to get symptoms of liver disease, your liver is already damaged and scarred – this is known as cirrhosis.

You should see a GP if you have symptoms of cirrhosis. This includes:

  • Feeling very tired and weak all the time
  • Loss of appetite – which may lead to weight loss
  • Loss of sex drive (libido)
  • Yellow skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

To contact your GP surgery during coronavirus lockdown you can visit their website, use the NHS App or call them.

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