Some doctors moving away from ventilators for virus patients

NEW YORK (AP) — 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.

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 the breathing help.

Generally speaking, 40 per cent to 50 per cent of patients with severe respiratory distress die while on ventilators, experts say. But 80 per cent 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 US, said American Lung Association’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Albert Rizzo.

Similar reports have emerged from China and the United Kingdom (UK). One UK report put the figure at 66 per cent. A very small study in Wuhan, the Chinese city where the disease first emerged, said 86 per cent 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.

Medical staff members check a ventilator at the care unit inside the Koranyi National Institute of Pulmonology in Budapest. PHOTO: AP