Doctors are seeing younger patients with Covid-19 during the second wave of infections, with more professionals and white collar workers needing hospital stays for serious symptoms.
In interviews with The National, front-line medics and hospital directors said the demographic had changed considerably since last year.
More under 40s were seen in recent months than in the first wave in 2020. One hospital reported a recent influx of 28-32-year-olds in January, after the Christmas holidays.
Not all patients had underlying health conditions.
“This time the patient population is quite different,” said Dr Vikas Bhagat, head of critical care at Aster Hospital in Mankhool, which handled hundreds of cases in the first wave.
“Before we were seeing immunity-compromised patients and older people, but now they are much younger, aged 28-32.
“They have no co-morbidities and are suffering extensive lung damage.
“It is surprising as most are needing ventilation, but the survival rate is high because they are younger.
“The damage is limited to the lungs, whereas last year we were also seeing kidney damage.”
Far fewer blue collar workers and labourers, who often live in multiple occupancy rooms and dorms, were admitted in recent months.
During a period of free mass vaccination, construction companies, contractors and labour operators put their employees through shots of the vaccine.
Last week, the government said it would largely restrict vaccines to the elderly and those with underlying illness.
Vaccinating the general population is expected to ramp up again in March.
Dr Prasanna Kumar, a critical care specialist at Medeor Hospital in Dubai, has also seen much younger patients in recent weeks.
“The major difference is we now have more cases overall,” said Dr Kumar, who treated dozens of patients in the first wave last year.
“We are noticing a proportional increase in patients from all age groups.
"We are getting younger patients as compared to the first wave of infections.”
When numbers dropped considerably last year, government hospitals took over all cases and cleared the private sector of patients.
That changed over the past few months, as numbers rose from just under 1,000 in late December to almost 4,000 in January. Medeor and other hospitals began accepting cases again recently.
The UAE findings are similar to those reported in Europe as new, more virulent strains of Covid-19 have swept across the globe.
On Thursday, the UAE reported 18 deaths, the highest since the pandemic began. The 7-day total was 86 and the death toll since the pandemic began was 974.
Doctors said that was a consequence of sheer case numbers, which on Thursday were 3,525, and that more patients were surviving.
Improved survival rates
As the outbreak has progressed, health professionals have learnt more about the virus and which treatments are most effective.
That is leading to better patient outcomes, with fewer dying or requiring critical care, doctors said.
“The intensive care unit stay for severely affected patients has been more or less the same as during the early stages of the pandemic, at around one to three weeks,” Dr Kumar said.
“So far in our ICUs during this second wave, all the patients have recovered and gone out of critical care wards, both young and old patients.
“Thankfully we have had no mortalities in ICU.”
Similar trends have been reported around the world with many countries reporting a two-wave pattern in cases of coronavirus, with a first wave during spring followed by the current second wave in late summer and autumn.
Empirical data showed the characteristics of the virus' effects varies between the two periods.
Although differences in age range and severity of the disease have been reported, the comparative characteristics of the two waves remain largely unknown.
In Spain, where there has been more than 3 million cases of Covid-19 and 63,704 deaths, some regions reported patients spending much less time in hospital during the second wave of the pandemic.
A comparative study of patients that required hospital stays in the Spanish city, Reus, found the death rate dropped from 24 per cent during the first wave to 13.2 per cent second time around.
The study found the patients who died were significantly older than the survivors, and those who died in the second wave were older than those in the first wave.
In the UAE, the average population age is 30 compared with 44 years old in Spain.
“We have been treating a mix of both middle-aged and advanced age patients (during the second wave), roughly 50 per cent of each group,” said Dr Surjya Upadhyay, an anaesthesiologist at NMC Royal Hospital in Dubai Investments Park.
“This time round, surprisingly, we do not see the labour class being as affected by the virus, but it is the middle-class and more affluent who are now being impacted.”