In a new study, researchers found that patients with age-related macular degeneration (AMD) who become infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are at higher risk of developing severe complications including requiring supplemental oxygen and death.
The study distributes this information to alert AMD patients and eye care practitioners of the potential risk.
The research was conducted by a team at Columbia University and elsewhere.
In the study, the team tested 6,398 COVID-19 patients hospitalized in New York during the first wave of the pandemic.
They used AMD as a proxy for complement dysfunction because those with AMD are known to have hyperactive complement activity.
They found that the AMD patients succumbed to the disease more rapidly than others, died at three times the rate of COVID-19 patients who did not have AMD, and required intubation in one out of five cases.
The team says this does not mean that AMD patients are more likely to become infected with the coronavirus.
Everyone’s risk of getting infected is entirely dependent on their behavior.
But these findings left no doubt that once infected, those with macular degeneration are at greater risk of developing catastrophic disease symptoms.
Those with AMD should err on the side of caution and implement recommended practices for avoiding infection, such as wearing a mask, social distancing, hand sanitation, avoiding gatherings with people whose COVID status they don’t know, and other CDC-recommended guidelines.
The team also says that AMD patients who require anti-VEGF injections for the wet form of the disease — or who experience sudden changes in vision and have dry AMD — should continue their treatment.
Retina clinics and ophthalmologists’ offices maintain extremely safe environments.
One author of the study is Sagi D. Shapira.
The study is published in Nature Medicine.