Why some doctors are moving away from ventilators for virus patients

Why some doctors are moving away from ventilators for virus patients

Some hospitals have reported unusually high death rates for COVID-19 patients on ventilators, and some doctors worry that the machines could be doing harm.

A ventilator stands next to a patient’s bed in the ICU ward at the Sant Pau hospital in Barcelona on April 2, 2020. Angel Garcia / Bloomberg via Getty ImagesApril 9, 2020, 6:11 AM MSTBy Associated Press

As health officials around the world push to get more ventilators to treat coronavirus patients, some doctors are moving away from using the breathing machines when they can.

The reason: Some hospitals have reported unusually high death rates for coronavirus patients on ventilators, and some doctors worry that the machines could be harming certain patients.

The evolving treatments highlight the fact that doctors are still learning the best way to manage a virus that emerged only months ago. They are relying on anecdotal, real-time data amid a crush of patients and shortages of basic supplies.

Medics Fighting Coronavirus Inside Hospital de Sant Pau

Mechanical ventilators push oxygen into patients whose lungs are failing. Using the machines involves sedating a patient and sticking a tube into the throat. Deaths in such sick patients are common, no matter the reason they need breathing help.

April 6, 202002:53

Generally speaking, 40 percent to 50 percent of patients with severe respiratory distress die while on ventilators, experts say. But 80 percent or more of coronavirus patients placed on the machines in New York City have died, state and city officials say.

Higher-than-normal death rates also have been reported elsewhere in the U.S., said Dr. Albert Rizzo, the American Lung Association’s chief medical officer.

Similar reports have emerged from China and the United Kingdom. One U.K. report put the figure at 66 percent. A very small study in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the disease first emerged, said 86 percent died.

The reason is not clear. It may have to do with what kind of shape the patients were in before they were infected. Or it could be related to how sick they had become by the time they were put on the machines, some experts said.

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