Study Finds High Death Rate for Critically Ill Coronavirus Patients in China

Study Finds High Death Rate for Critically Ill Coronavirus Patients in China
Medical staff transfer a patient infected by the Novel Coronavirus at a hospital in Wuhan in China's central Hubei province on Feb. 22, 2020. (STR/AFP via Getty Images)
Cathy He

The mortality rate for critically-ill coronavirus patients is high—greater than that for SARS, according to a new study analyzing that cohort of patients in virus epicenter Wuhan.

Chinese researchers, in a Feb. 24 study published on The Lancet, examined 52 critically ill patients admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) of Wuhan Jin Yin-tan hospital between late December 2019 and Jan. 26, and found that 32, 61.5 percent, later died.

All of those patients had died within 28 days of admission to the ICU, it found. The median duration from ICU admission to death was seven days.

“The mortality of critically ill patients with SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia [Novel Coronavirus] is high,” the study said, adding those who died tended to survive for a period of around one to two weeks after ICU admission.

According to official figures, the coronavirus has killed over 2,000 people in China and infected almost 80,000 people, although experts have suggested the actual number of infections could be far greater.

This mortality rate was higher than that previously seen in critically ill SARS patients, the researchers noted. That outbreak of 2002 to 2003, which also originated in China, killed almost 800 and infected around 8,000 people worldwide. They also postulated the mortality rate to be higher than that seen in critically ill patients who had Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Older patients—those 65 years and older—are at increased risk of death, the study found.

Researchers also found that patients who did not survive were more likely to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)—a type of respiratory failure characterized by rapid inflammation of the lungs—and were more likely to receive medical ventilation.

Of the 20 patients who survived, eight patients were discharged.

Two-thirds of the 52 clinically ill patients were men, the study said, a finding which supports previous data that males are more susceptible to infection.

“The severity of SARS-CoV-2 pneumonia poses great strain on critical care resources in hospitals, especially if they are not adequately staffed or resourced,” the study concluded.

The outbreak has overwhelmed Wuhan’s public health system, with hospitals facing supply shortages and struggling to cope with heavy caseloads. As a result, many patients, including those suffering from non-coronavirus related ailments, have not been able to obtain treatment. Meanwhile, frontline health workers are bearing intense physical and mental pressure, with many having been infected with the disease themselves while treating patients.
Cathy He is the politics editor at the Washington D.C. bureau. She was previously an editor for U.S.-China and a reporter covering U.S.-China relations.
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