Harvard doctors find this is how most critical COVID-19 patients are beating it

COVID-19 is a virus that’s still very much shrouded in mystery, it feels like the more we uncover about it, the more questions we have. All the different ways the coronavirus is capable of spreading are still up for debate, and different mutations of the strain continue to be discovered. 

All of that uncertainty, coupled with 24/7 media coverage, makes it easy to start considering the virus as an unbeatable, almost mythical, foe.

If you’ve been feeling particularly pessimistic about how things are going against COVID-19, a team of top-notch doctors from Massachusetts General Hospital and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has some positive findings to report. While they can only speak for what’s happening in their hospitals, their new study finds that the vast majority of critically ill COVID-19 patients were able to make a full recovery after receiving the standard treatments for respiratory failure.

Both hospitals are associated with Harvard Medical School and considered among the best medical facilities in the world.

These findings are incredibly promising. The fact that most critical patients, even those requiring ventilators to breathe in ICU units, were able to beat COVID-19 after being given standard respiratory failure treatments that have been in place for years indicates that the coronavirus is not an insurmountable enemy.

Throughout this global pandemic, hospitals all over the world have been sharing patient information and recovery information with one another. The idea is to help spread useful data on effective treatments and patient recovery statistics, but in reality, this practice has muddied the medical waters a bit and led to a lot of conflicting theories. That’s why C. Corey Hardin, MD, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor of Medicine at MGH and Harvard Medical School, decided to put together a report on patient recoveries in his hospital. 

Dr. Hardin and his team of co-collaborators examined the health records and outcomes of 66 COVID-19 patients who developed critical respiratory symptoms and required ventilator care.

Now, severe COVID-19 cases almost always lead to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a deadly form of respiratory failure. ARDS, though, isn’t a new ailment; it can be caused by a variety of other pathogens besides COVID-19 and has thus been studied and treated for years.

“The good news is we have been studying ARDS for over 50 years and we have a number of effective evidenced-based therapies with which to treat it,” Dr. Hardin explains in a press release. “We applied these treatments–such as prone ventilation where patients are turned onto their stomachs–to patients in our study and they responded to them as we would expect patients with ARDS to respond.”

After receiving those treatments, the death rate among studied ICU patients was 16.7%. That is much lower than the ICU fatality statistics reported by other hospitals. Ideally, that percentage should be 0%, but it’s important to keep in mind that we’re talking about patients in critical condition. Taking this into account, as well as the far higher death rates in other areas, makes 16.7% a noteworthy statistic.

Additionally, after following up with surviving patients for an average of 34 days, it was noted that 75.8% were released from ICU care within that time frame.

“Based on this, we recommend that clinicians provide evidence-based ARDS treatments to patients with respiratory failure due to COVID-19 and await standardized clinical trials before contemplating novel therapies,” says co-lead author Jehan Alladina, MD, an Instructor in Medicine at Mass General.

With a vaccine seemingly so far away, establishing a set treatment plan for critical COVID-19 patients is among the highest of priorities right now. If these results can be recreated in other hospitals all over the world, it would save countless lives. 

The full study can be found here, published in The American Journal for Respiratory Clinical Care Medicine.

John Anderer is a frequent contributor to Ladders News.