Fewer ICU Patients Dying From COVID-19, Study Suggests

By Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen
Isabel van Brugen is an award-winning journalist. She holds a master's in newspaper journalism from City, University of London.
July 17, 2020Updated: July 17, 2020

As cases of the CCP virus continue to surge around the world, new data suggests that fewer intensive care patients are dying from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Since the start of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic, the death rate for patients admitted to intensive care units (ICU) has declined by one-third, according to a global analysis of 24 observational studies of the disease involving 10,150 patients from across Asia, Europe, and North America.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Anaesthesia, suggests that the increase in survival rate for ICU patients could be due at least in part to improvements being made in the healthcare response as medical professionals continue to learn more about how to best treat the virus.

Overall, the average mortality rates for COVID-19 intensive care patients followed in the study fell to just under 42 percent at the end of May from almost 60 percent since the end of March.

The research, led by Professor Tim Cook of England’s Royal United Hospitals Bath, did not find a significantly different mortality rate across Europe, Asia, and North America.

Researchers offered several explanations for the drop in COVID-19 ICU deaths, including the “rapid learning that has taken place on a global scale due to the prompt publication of clinical reports early in the pandemic.”

Study authors also suggest that hospital ICUs might have been under greater pressure early in the pandemic. The rapid spread of the CCP virus, coupled with the large volume of patients requiring breathing support, placed “unprecedented demand” on ICU services, researchers wrote.

“It may also be that ICU admission criteria have changed over time, for example, with more non‐invasive ventilatory management outside ICU,” they continued. “It is also likely to reflect the fact that long ICU stays, for example, due to prolonged respiratory weaning, take time to be reflected in the data.”

Authors of the study also suggest that there is a possibility that mortality rates were overestimated in earlier, smaller studies.

“The important message, however, is that early reports of in‐ICU mortality appear to have over‐estimated mortality as now calculated,” they said.

Doctors have reported progress in learning more about the highly contagious virus to have a better grasp of key problems for many patients, although much work remains to be done on the development of treatments and potential vaccines.

The researchers said their findings could reflect the time for long ICU stays to show up in the data, noting that nearly a third of UK ICU admissions lasted more than 28 days and 9 percent lasted more than 42 days.

The authors emphasized that the recent COVID-19 ICU mortality rate of around 40 percent is still much higher than the 22 percent for other viral pneumonias.

“Optimistically, countries in the later phase of the pandemic may be coping better with COVID‐19,” the researchers said.

Reuters contributed to this report.