A New Hampshire emergency doctor told Newsmax that a simple $22 device could save lives in the battle against coronavirus.
Dr. Richard Levitan, a 30-year ER veteran, said that by the time many of the COVID-19 patients arrive at the hospital their lungs already have been damaged and their oxygen levels have plummeted to 50% capacity. Most of these patients then require invasive and costly ventilation.
Levitan says that monitoring oxygen levels before they reach this dangerously low level could save the lives of millions of people and billions of resource dollars globally. The device that can do this is called a pulse oximeter. By monitoring and identifying patients with early COVID-19 pneumonia rather than late stage, where the patient already is having shortness of breath, doctors can give oxygen and use positioning maneuvers to treat them, without resorting to ventilators.
Levitan volunteered to work 10 days at Bellevue Hospital in New York City during the COVID-19 crush at the end of March.
“Over those days, I realized that we are not detecting the deadly pneumonia the virus causes early enough and that we could be doing more to keep patients off ventilators —and alive,” he told Newsmax. “We’re treating the back end instead of the front end of the disease.”
Low oxygen levels, call hypoxia, is what’s killing patients, said Levitan, who added that the guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) early in the pandemic needs to be updated CDC advised going to the hospital only if you are short of breath, but Levitan said this is often too late.
“By the time people you go to the hospital and you can’t breathe, it’s a very serious, dire situation,” he said. Patients who have noticeable trouble breathing and present to the hospital will most likely ultimately require a ventilator. One of the pathways to beating deadly pneumonia is to catch it as oxygen levels begin to drop, when it is symptomless. Levitan calls this “silent hypoxia.”
“We know we can detect COVID-19 pneumonia earlier by using oximeters and this is one of the ways we can move the treatment curve earlier and do much better for patients,” he told Newsmax. “Every home should have one, along with a regular thermometer, so oxygen levels and temperature readings can be monitored. Older patients in nursing homes should be regularly monitored along with those who have tested positive for COVID-19, since they are high risk for developing pneumonia.”
Pulse oximetry is a simple technology, he said.
“These small devices turn on with one button and are placed on a fingertip,” he explained. “In a few seconds, two numbers are displayed: oxygen saturation and pulse rate.”
Pulse oximeters are extremely reliable in detecting oxygenation problems and elevated heart rates, he said, adding that he bought his at Walmart.
“Testing for COVID-19 is important but equally important is monitoring those who may develop pneumonia which is the real killer. COVID-19 is primarily a disease of the lungs and early detection and treatment, like any other disease, can save lives, said the expert. “We need to have people come to the hospital earlier and not be afraid to be tested so we can catch the disease in its earliest and most treatable stages.”
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