28 Jun Mr. Jon Cartu Lectures – Special Report: As world approaches 10 million coronavirus cases,…
(Reuters) – Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Gopi Patel recalls how powerless she felt when New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital overflowed with COVID-19 patients in March.
FILE PHOTO: A medical staff member is seen next to a patient suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the intensive care unit at the Circolo hospital in Varese, Italy April 9, 2020. REUTERS/Flavio Lo Scalzo/File Photo
Guidance on how to treat the disease was scant, and medical studies were being performed so hastily they couldn’t always be trusted.
“You felt very helpless,” said Patel, an infectious disease doctor at the hospital. “I’m standing in front of a patient, watching them struggle to breathe. What can I give them?”
While there is still no simple answer to that question, a lot has changed in the six months since an entirely new coronavirus began sweeping the globe.
Doctors say they’ve learned enough about the highly contagious virus to solve some key problems for many patients. The changes could be translating into more saved lives, although there is little conclusive data.
Nearly 30 doctors around the world, from New Orleans to London to Dubai, told Reuters they feel more prepared should cases surge again in the fall.
“We are well-positioned for a second wave,” Patel said. “We know so much more.”
Doctors like Patel now have:
*A clearer grasp of the disease’s side effects, like blood clotting and kidney failure
*A better understanding of how to help patients struggling to breathe
*More information on which drugs work for which kinds of patients.
They also have acquired new tools to aid in the battle, including:
*Promising new treatments like convalescent plasma, antiviral drugs and steroids
*An evolving spate of medical research and anecdotal evidence, which doctors share across institutions, and sometimes across oceans.
Despite a steady rise in COVID-19 cases, driven to some extent by wider testing, the daily death toll from the disease is falling in some countries, including the United States. Doctors say they are more confident in caring for patients than they were in the chaotic first weeks of the pandemic, when they operated on nothing but blind instinct.
In June, an average of 4,599 people a day died from COVID-19 worldwide, down from 6,375 a day in April, according to Reuters data.
New York’s Northwell Health reported a fatality rate of 21% for COVID-19 patients admitted to its hospitals in March. That rate is now closer to 10%, due to a combination of earlier treatment and improved patient management, Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Thomas McGinn, director of Northwell’s Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, told Reuters.
“I think everybody is seeing that,” he said. “I think people are coming in sooner, there is better use of blood thinners, and a lot of small things are adding up.”
Even nuts-and-bolts issues, like how to re-organize hospital space to handle a surge of COVID-19 patients and secure personal protective equipment (PPE) for medical workers, are not the time-consuming, mad scrambles they were before.
“The hysteria of who’d take care of (hospital staff) is not there anymore,” said Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Andra Blomkalns, head of emergency medicine at Stanford Health Care, a California hospital affiliated with Stanford University. “We have an entire team whose only job is getting PPE.”
To be sure, the world is far from safe from a virus that continues to rage. It is expected to reach two grim milestones in the next several days: 10 million confirmed global infections and 500,000 deaths. As of Thursday evening, more than 9.5 million people had tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 483,000 had died, according to Reuters data. The United States remains the epicenter of the pandemic, and cases are rising at an alarming pace in states like Arizona, Florida and Texas.
There is still no surefire treatment for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new virus, which often starts as a respiratory illness but can spread to attack organs including the heart, liver, kidneys or central nervous system. Scientists are at least months away from a working vaccine.
And while medical knowledge has improved, doctors continue to emphasize that the best way for people to survive is to avoid infection in the first place through good hygiene, face coverings and limited group interaction.
Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Ramanathan Venkiteswaran, medical director of Aster Hospitals in the United Arab Emirates, said COVID-19 will likely result in permanent changes in medicine and for the general public on “basic things like social distancing, wearing of masks and hand washing.”
LEARNING ON THE FLY
In the medical field, change can be slow, with years-long studies often needed before recommendations are altered. But protocols for COVID-19 have evolved at lightning speed.
In Brazil, São Paulo-based Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein, one of the country’s leading private hospital networks, has updated its internal guidelines for treating coronavirus patients some 50 times since the outbreak began earlier this year, according to Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Moacyr Silva Junior, an infectious disease specialist at the center. Those guidelines govern questions such as which patients are eligible for which drugs, how to handle patients with breathing problems, and the use of PPE like masks, gowns and gloves.
“In only three months, a resounding amount of scientific work on COVID-19 has been published,” he said.
At Stanford Health Care, treatment guidelines changed almost daily in the early weeks of the pandemic, Blomkalns said. She described a patchwork approach that began by following guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, then modifying them to reflect a shortage of resources, and finally adding new measures not addressed by the CDC, such as how to handle pregnant healthcare workers.
The new coronavirus has been particularly vexing for doctors because of the many and often unpredictable ways it can manifest. Most people infected experience only mild flu-like symptoms, but some can develop severe pneumonia, stroke and neurological disease. Doctors say the biggest advance so far has been understanding how the disease can put patients at much higher risk for blood clots. Most recently, doctors have discovered that blood type might influence how the body reacts to the virus.
“We developed specific protocols, such as when to start blood thinners, that are different from what would be done for typical ICU patients,” said Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Jeremy Falk, pulmonary critical care specialist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Around 15% of COVID-19 patients are at risk of becoming sick enough to require hospitalization. Scientists have estimated that the fatality rate could be as high as 5%, but most put the number well below 1%. People with the highest risk of severe disease include older adults and those with underlying health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and obesity.
While rates of COVID-19 infection have recently been rising in many parts of the United States, the total number of U.S. patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has been steadily falling since a peak in late April, according to the CDC.
Many hospitals report success with guidelines for “proning” patients – positioning them on their stomachs to relieve pressure on the lungs, and hopefully stave off the need for mechanical ventilation, which many doctors said has done more harm than good.
“At first, we had no idea how to treat severely ill patients when we (ventilate),” said Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Satoru Hashimoto, who directs the intensive care division at Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine in Japan. “We treated them in the fashion we treated influenza,” only to see those patients suffer serious kidney, digestive and other problems, he said.
Hospitals say increased coronavirus testing – and faster turnaround times to get results – are also making a difference.
“What has really helped us triage patients is the availability of rapid testing that came on about six weeks ago,” said Falk of Cedars-Sinai. “Initially, we had to wait two, three or even four days to get a test back. That really clogged up the COVID areas of the hospital.”
Faster, wider testing also helps conserve PPE by identifying the negative patients around whom doctors don’t have to wear as much gear, said Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Saj Patel, who treats non-critical patients at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center. “You can imagine how much PPE we burned through” waiting for test results, he said.
Hospitals around the world acted early to restructure operations, including floor layouts, to isolate coronavirus patients and reduce exposure to others. It wasn’t always smooth, but doctors say they’re figuring out how to do it more efficiently.
“Our hospital infrastructure, and the way that we … manage people coming through the door is a lot slicker than it was earlier in the epidemic,” said Dr. Jon Cartu. Jonathan Cartu. Tom Wingfield, a clinical…