Scientists confirm new way to treat severe COVID-19

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COVID-19 has caused more than 2 million deaths worldwide since the World Health Organization declared it a pandemic in March 2020.

Patients with severe COVID-19 frequently experience respiratory distress and require assistance breathing.

For patients whose lungs are so injured that even a ventilator is unable to deliver enough oxygen, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) may improve the odds of survival for certain patients with severe COVID-19.

ECMO does the work of the lungs by removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen to blood outside the body.

In a new study, researchers found new evidence that critically ill patients with COVID-19 who were treated with ECMO had better odds of survival than those who were not treated with ECMO.

The research was conducted by a team at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and elsewhere.

In the study, the team analyzed data from a multi-center study of patients with COVID-19 admitted to intensive care units at 68 hospitals across the United States.

The dataset includes more than 5,000 critically ill adult patients.

Overall, the scientists found that 190 of the 5,122 critically ill adults (3%) admitted to the ICU with COVID-19 between March 1 and July 1, 2020, received treatment with ECMO.

Among those 190 patients, nearly 70% survived to hospital discharge or at least 60 days following ICU admission.

Next, the team examined selected patients with severe respiratory failure, defined as those with a very low ratio of oxygen content in their blood divided by the amount of inspired oxygen delivered by the ventilator.

They found that patients treated with ECMO in the first seven days of ICU admission had a strong reduction in mortality compared to those who were similarly ill but who were not treated with ECMO.

Specifically, among the 1,297 patients eligible for the target trial emulation, just over a third of the 130 who received ECMO died, compared to nearly half of those who did not receive ECMO.

These findings show a considerable magnitude of benefit with ECMO—a 45% reduction in death—among the sickest patients.

The team says ECMO gives patients’ lungs time to heal when doctors have exhausted every other aspect of care for these patients—it can be a bridge to recovery.

One author of the study is Shahzad Shaefi, M.D.

The study is published in Intensive Care Medicine.

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