By: KDKA-TV News Staff

MORGANTOWN, W. Va. (KDKA) – Rural COVID-19 patients in the ICU are at a higher risk of dying than people from cities, according to a WVU researcher.

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Sunil Sharma, the chief of West Virginia University’s pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine section, led the new study.

“This is the first study coming out of Appalachia. We were surprised that nobody had made that effort to look at what our community needs are. And if you don’t work in a hospital, I think sometimes there’s this sense of comfort in thinking, ‘Maybe things are not as bad in rural areas,’ but they are. They’re worse than in urban areas,” said Sharma.

Researchers looked at 81 patients who were transferred from critical access hospitals and rural facilities to ICUs at larger hospitals with more specialized care.

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Researchers found that 54 percent of the rural COVID patients in their sample died within a month of being admitted to the ICU compared to only 30 percent in urban centers.

As for why rural COVID patients fared worse than those from the city, Sharma said health conditions prominent in rural areas like diabetes, obesity and COPD may play a role.

Critical access hospitals also have “very basic infrastructure,” he said, and they weren’t designed to handle a pandemic with the “worst type of respiratory failure that you encounter.”

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Calling the results of the study “terrible news,” Sharma is encouraging people who live in rural areas to get vaccinated.