Surgery after COVID-19 might be safe sooner than recommended 7-week wait, study suggests

Fully vaccinated patients who undergo surgery soon after COVID-19 don't have an elevated risk of post-surgery complications compared to surgery patients with no COVID-19 history, according to a study published July 15 in Annals of Surgery. 

Guidelines currently recommend patients avoid elective surgery until seven weeks after a COVID-19 illness, "but as the pandemic continues, there is concern that delaying surgeries could cause more harm than benefit to some patients," said Sidney Le, MD, lead study author and surgeon at the University of California San Francisco. 

"If we are able to identify certain patients who can proceed with surgery despite a recent coronavirus infection, that would be a big relief to health systems and their patients," Dr. Le said. 

The study involved records for nearly 229,000 surgeries scheduled at Oakland, Calif.-based Kaiser Permanente between January 2020 and February 2022. Of those, nearly 5 percent involved a confirmed COVID-19 case in the weeks before or just after surgery. Findings showed a 5 percent rate of postoperative complications, with no higher rate among fully vaccinated patients who had COVID-19 within four weeks before surgery compared to patients who did not have COVID-19. 

Researchers said current guidelines for surgery and anesthesia during the pandemic were largely based on studies done before the widespread availability of vaccines, with the latest findings offering evidence that elective surgeries can be safely resumed sooner after a COVID-19 infection, especially among asymptomatic and mildly ill patients. 

"This is the first study that I'm aware of that demonstrates vaccination mitigates the risk of harm in a patient who has recently had COVID-19 and has recovered by the time of their surgery," said Bradley Cohn, MD, anesthesiologist, intensivist and chair of perioperative medicine for the Permanente Medical Group. 


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