TB Special:  Why are ventilators so important in Covid-19 treatment?

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Ventilators are critical for covid-19 patients whose lungs get badly affected leading to suffocation.

Many medical authorities are prepping up to fill their hospitals with ventilators to cope up with massive number of corona virus patient cases.

Since the mortality rate is 3-4 %, majority of patients with Covid-19 disease experience mild symptoms, about 6% need hospital care, with older patients being more vulnerable to the virus.

Experts say that in order to avoid any shortage of ventilators, prevention through social distancing and maintaining good hygiene regularly would play a key role, because failing to do so, the threat to lives increase, which eventually increase the demand of ventilators.

How does a ventilator work?

Before placing a patient on a ventilator, anesthetics often perform a procedure called intubation.

After a patient is sedated and administered a muscle relaxant, a tube is placed via mouth and into the windpipe. The procedure is conventional, but with Covid-19 patients, medical staff need to take extreme measures to ensure they do not become infected with the virus. Therefore a complete suit should be provided to the medical staff.

When would a patient get ventilator support?

Before deciding to put a patient onto a ventilator, doctors look for certain signs that include:

  • Increase in breathing rate
  • Signs of respiratory failure
  • Increase in Co2 levels in blood
  • Distress and confusion after sedation

Doctors say 15 breaths a minute is considered normal breathing rate. If the rate is at 28 times a minute, then this is a signal that ventilation may be required. Before getting onto a mechanical ventilator, medical staff tries to increase the patient’s oxygen by other means. These “non-invasive” methods of ventilation include masks and oxygen tanks.

In the recent times due to Covid-19, medical staff tried to avoid non-invasive methods because patients would still cough and splutter, increasing the risk of the virus transmission to medical staff.

How is India coping up with the shortage of ventilators?

India, along with other countries is in dire need of ventilators due to the increasing demand lately. India has only 48,000 ventilators as of now. In such crisis an engineering start up races to build a low cost effective ventilator to fight covid-19. Currently, at least two Indian companies manufacture ventilators, possibly from imported components. They cost around 150,000 ($1,987; £1,612) rupees each. One of them, AgVa Healthcare, plans to make 20,000 equipment within a month. India has ordered 10,000 from China too, however that will not meet with the potential demand. The invasive ventilator being manufactured by the engineers at Nocca Robotics might cost 50,000 rupees ($662).

Within five days of beginning their work, a group of seven engineers have come up with three prototypes of a portable machine. A prosthetic device that provides oxygen and expels carbon dioxide from the blood acts as an artificial lung for testing. By 7th April, the engineers have planned to launch machines that can be tested on patients after approvals.

Some leading Indian industrialists, including a renowned medical device-making company, have provided their factories to manufacture the machines. They planned to make 30,000 ventilators, at around 150-200 a day, by the middle of May.

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