ABC health expert Norman Swan has been forced to issue an apology after sparking backlash for suggesting the death of cricket legend Shane Warne and senator Kimberly Kitching could be Covid-related.
Warne died aged just 52 of a sudden heart attack on March 4 while on holiday in Thailand a few weeks after a mild case of Covid.
Senator Kitching succumbed to a suspected heart attack six days later, at the same age, but had not contracted Covid before her death or tested positive previously.
Despite both having other medical risk factors, Swan told Daily Mail Australia it was ‘too much of a coincidence’ that they ‘died not long after a Covid infection’.
2GB radio host Ben Fordham took aim at the former physician and broadcaster in a fiery spray this morning, claiming Dr Swan was ‘no better than the anti-vaxxers who claim that every famous person who’s died in the last two years and died of the jab’.
‘He should be ashamed of himself,’ Fordham added.
However, the medico has since apologised for his statements on ABC News on Tuesday morning after being criticised for ‘speculating’ about the two deaths.
I’ve personally apologised to Andrew her husband,’ Dr Swan told news.com.au.
‘I’ve clearly made an error which I deeply regret.
‘I do recall such reports and have checked with others who did too but that doesn’t excuse my having upset the family.’
ABC health expert Norman Swan has suggested cricket legend Shane Warne and Senator Kimberley Kitching’s deaths were Covid-related
Warne (pictured with his children) died aged just 52 of a sudden heart attack on March 4 while on holiday in Thailand a few weeks after a mild case of Covid
‘There’s no way of proving it, there’s just too much of a coincidence that they both had Covid prior to their sudden cardiac arrests,’ he said.
‘It is being reported around the world that Covid causes inflammation in the arteries of the heart.
‘Shane Warne had lots of risk factors for heart disease, but if he was going to get a bit of extra inflammation from Covid, that could have tipped him over the edge.
‘These are two high-profile people, one of whose death was a complete surprise, and they both had Covid in the background.’
The former GP turned pundit pointed to British research linking contracting the virus to a greater risk of heart attacks.
The study of 48 million unvaccinated patients claimed Covid may have led to 10,500 cases of heart attacks, strokes and other blood clot complications such as deep vein thrombosis.
Swan summarised the findings of the study that compared the medical records of patients of a similar age, medical history, and other risk factors.
‘In the early stages after infection the risk it found the risk of arterial thrombosis was 21 times greater, and 33 times for veinous thrombosis… that’s enormous,’ he said,
‘Even six months afterwards the risk is between 30 per cent and 50 per cent higher of having a heart attack, stroke or a thrombosis in your legs, so that’s significantly increased risk.’
Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching (pictured) died aged 52 from a heart attack on March 10
Swan mentioned Warne and Kitching in passing as he warned ABC News viewers on Tuesday morning not to be complacent about the fourth Covid wave.
Some ABC viewers expressed their support for his Covid warning on social media, but others were unimpressed with the references to Warne and Senator Kitching.
‘Extremely disrespectful to speculate about causes of death with zero evidence merely to push your chosen barrow,’ one wrote.
Swan accepted that some Australians may feel that way about him invoking the pair’s deaths as part of a Covid warning, but he felt it was reasonable.
‘That’s a fair cop. But equally, I’m sure the families are wondering why it happened, and this could be an explanation,’ he said.
‘These weren’t private deaths, they were very public and had an impact on a lot of people who scratched their heads and wondered why, and that could have been a reason.
‘If I thought it was hurtful to the families I wouldn’t have said it.
‘What would be hurtful is saying Kimberley Kitching had a dreadful lifestyle, if I was blaming her for the heart attack that would be a dreadful thing to say to the family.
‘But if it’s a side effect of Covid it starts to explain things.
‘I think it helps to have an explanation and this might be one, and it’s a message to other people that you have to be careful and not blasé about catching this.’
Swan used another example of Professor Chris Goodnow, who was forced to resign in July as executive director of Garvan Institute of Medical Research due to heart complications from Covid.
‘These heart side effects do happen, and it’s probably one or two per cent of people. So your individual risk is low, but with tens of thousands being infected that’s quite a lot of people in the community,’ he said.
‘You shouldn’t go out trying to catch it thinking it’s harmless and it will give you more immunity, you should try to avoid it if you can.’
Swan explained that warnings from state governments in the past week about a growing fourth wave of coronavirus were just about reducing strain on hospitals.
He said politicians weren’t worried about long Covid and other complications, but Australians should be.
He said recent research from Israel found the fourth dose – a second booster now available to Australians – protected very well against infection for several weeks.
‘So if you haven’t had your fourth dose, now is quite a good time to get it as you might avoid catching Covid [during this new wave] at all,’ he said.
This was in addition to much longer lasting protection against symptomatic and serious illness.
One of the last pictures taken of Shane Warne hours before his death at a luxury resort in Koh Samui on March 4
Swan is not the first medical expert to draw a link between Covid and Warne’s death, based on other studies finding increased risks.
Professor Jeremy Nicholson, pro-vice chancellor for Health Sciences at Murdoch University, said there was a ‘significant possibility’ an underlying heart condition could be exacerbated by the virus.
‘Shane may well have had some sub-clinical level pre-existing atherosclerosis (this is very common in men over 40) that was then accelerated by Covid-19,’ he said days after the cricket star’s death.
Professor Nicholson wrote in a scientific paper it was observed that the rate of cardiovascular events was greatly increased for up to a year for Covid patients.
He said while not proven, the use of a ventilator could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, with the virus sometimes causing arteries to harden.
‘We do know that SARS COV-2 infections are highly atherogenic in the acute phase and that impacts on heart attack risks and strokes,’ he said.
Professor Nicholson said the shock death of the cricketer highlighted the increased risk at the population level for people who have contracted Covid-19.
A Washington University study at the time found a year after catching Covid, patients had a 72 per cent higher rate of heart failure and their risk of heart attack jumped by 63 per cent.
Warne’s family said he was suffering chest pains and asthma flare-ups in the weeks before he died.
His former doctor Peter Brukner blamed the spin king’s lifestyle of a combination of a longstanding smoking habit, poor diet and other factors.
‘Warney, if he had heart disease, which sounds like he did, you know, that didn’t happen overnight in Thailand,’ he said at the time.
‘It’s been happening for 20, 30 years from smoking, poor diet, etc, etc.’
CCTV captures Warne casually strolling through the villa holding several shirts after a visit to his favourite tailor, the last time he was seen alive
Senator Kitching was suffering from hyperthyroidism that caused her to lose weight in the months before her death.
The condition can ’cause problems that masquerade as heart disease or make existing heart disease worse’, according to a Harvard study.
Hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems, which can make it difficult for doctors to diagnose.
The long list of symptoms included rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) – commonly more than 100 beats a minute, irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia), and pounding of your heart (palpitations).
Senator Kitching’s allies also claimed she was ostracised and bullied by Labor ‘mean girls’ Penny Wong, Katy Gallagher and Ms Keneally before her sudden death.
Ex-Labor MP Michael Danby, a close friend of Ms Kitching, claimed her treatment by senior female members crossed a line.
‘It’s a fine line, people are entitled to fierce disagreements, but it was too much in my opinion, what was done crossed that fine line and people should say they’re sorry and they regret it,’ Mr Danby said.
Mr Danby hit out at the Labor right for ‘dangling’ her pre-selection over her head which he said had caused the politician undue stress.