Hospital Admissions for Traumatic Brain Injury Have Decreased in Some Regions Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic


As the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread worldwide, researchers have been working to determine the impact of the disease on health care systems. While most studies have investigated the direct effects of the viral infection and illness itself, some researchers are interested to know how pandemic-related public health protocols (such as mandatory lockdowns, quarantines, social distancing regulations, and mask requirements) have influenced other common health conditions.

In Austria, where winter sports tourism has been discontinued to prevent the spread of COVID-19, clinicians have noticed that fewer people are presenting to the emergency department with sports-related injuries, including traumatic brain injury (TBI). A research team in the Austrian federal state of Tyrol investigated this trend by comparing patterns of TBI cases in 2020 (during the COVID-19 pandemic) to patterns of TBI cases from 2016 to 2019. They hoped to precisely determine the impact of Austria’s mandatory three-week quarantine on the winter tourism industry and on hospital admissions for TBI.

The research team analyzed medical records from 122 patients who were admitted to Tyrol hospitals for TBI during a three-week period (March 16 to April 5) in each year from 2016 to 2020. They limited their search to only those patients who were admitted during this time period in each year to ensure that all of the hospital admissions prior to 2020 accurately compared to the seasonal timing of the 2020 quarantine, which lasted from March 16 to April 5, 2020. After analyzing the hospital admissions data, the researchers determined that:

  • Significantly fewer patients presented to the emergency department with TBI during the 2020 quarantine period, compared to the same three-week period in prior years.
  • TBIs related to at-home falls increased during 2020, as did the proportion of elderly patients (who are prone to falling at home) who sought care for TBI.
  • There were no instances of TBI sustained during alpine sports, such as skiing and snowboarding.

Given that TBI is the leading cause of death among winter sports athletes and accounts for 15% of winter sports-related injuries each year in Austria, the researchers concluded that the unprecedented COVID-19 quarantine has directly reduced serious head injuries by restricting access to sports activities. However, increased time at home during quarantine may increase falling risk among the elderly, suggesting a need for increased elder care and support during the pandemic.

Pinggera D, Klein B, Thomé C, & Grassner L. The influence of the COVID-19 pandemic on traumatic brain injury in Tyrol: Experiences from a state under lockdown. European Journal of Trauma and Emergency Surgery. (July 2020).

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