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As world approaches 10 million coronavirus cases, doctors see hope in new treatments

As world approaches 10 million coronavirus cases, doctors see hope in new treatments
June 26, 2020 10:37 pm

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Dr Gopi Patel recalls how powerless she felt when New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital overflowed with COVID-19 patients in March.  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: *Widespread testing *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. 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. 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. 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.”

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