BALTIMORE (WJZ) — According to a new study published in The American Journal of Medicine, hospital admissions for COPD decreased by 53 percent following the public health measures used to reduce the spread of Covid-19.

“Our study shows there’s a silver lining to the behavior changes beyond protecting against COVID-19,” said senior author Robert M. Reed, MD, UMSOM Professor of Medicine and pulmonologist at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC). “If we completely eliminate masks and distancing during cold and flu season, we’ll allow all those viruses that have been effectively suppressed to come raging back. There could be a lot of illness.”

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Hospitalizations for COPD are commonly driven by flare-ups where symptoms are triggered by factors including tobacco smoke, air pollution, and respiratory infections. Seasonal respiratory viruses trigger nearly half of those flare-ups. Researchers believe that Covid-19 behavior changes such as stay-at-home orders, social distancing and mask mandates have reduced the exposure to other respiratory infections.

“We found a 53 percent drop in COPD admissions throughout UMMS during COVID-19. That is substantial, but equally significant, the drop in weekly COPD admissions was 36 percent lower than the declines seen in other serious medical conditions, including congestive heart failure, diabetes and heart attack,” said Dr.  Jennifer Y. So, Co-Lead Author, UMSOM Assistant Professor of Medicine and COPD specialist at UMMC.

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COPD was the fourth leading cause of death worldwide and the leading cause of hospital admissions in the U.S. prior to the pandemic. Researchers compared weekly hospital admissions for COPD prior to Covid-19 with admissions after to better understand the data and behavioral changes.

“Our study did not assess which public health components worked to tame seasonal respiratory viruses, but a simple thing like wearing a mask while riding on public transit or working from home when you’re sick with a cold could go a long way to reduce virus exposure,” said Dr. Reed

Dr. So, who is from South Korea, said it is a cultural norm to wear masks during the winter in her native country. “The COVID-19 pandemic has helped a lot of people around the world become more aware of the role of masking and social distancing to reduce the spread of disease,” she said.

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“This is a compelling study that raises some important public health questions about protecting our most vulnerable patient populations after we are finished with the COVID-19 pandemic. I certainly think it warrants a fuller discussion,” said UMSOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, University Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor.

CBS Baltimore Staff