Why Are COVID-19 Patients Now Surviving At Higher Rates?

by Kroger Health Staff

Last Updated: January 21, 2021

While COVID-19 has devastated many lives worldwide; there is some good news for those recently infected with COVID-19. As case numbers continue to soar, the death rate is falling. Even the most critical patients are now surviving at higher rates than at the beginning of the pandemic.

One study looked at ICU patients from March through May and found that severely ill COVID-19 patients were more likely to survive in later months than earlier in the pandemic. The study found that by May, deaths of COVID-19 patients in the ICU have fallen by nearly a third in North America, Asia, and Europe.

Another study supports continued improvement. Researchers at NYU Langone Health analyzed more than 5,000 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 from March to August and confirmed death rates dropped. The study found mortality among 5,000 hospitalized patients dropped by 18 percentage points since the start of the pandemic. Patients in the study had a 25.6% chance of dying when the pandemic began. That has dropped significantly to a 7.6% chance in August. While a 7.6% chance is still high risk than other diseases, the improvement is good news.

But scientists say the virus is just as lethal as ever. So, why are COVID-19 patients having better outcomes now?

There are several factors that are likely contributing to the higher rate of survival. First, there is greater awareness of the disease and its symptoms. This means more patients are seeking treatment earlier in the course of the illness. Medical experts also credit the widespread use of masks and social distancing with limiting the virus’s spread to the most vulnerable people.

The average age of patients is getting younger. The virus initially hit the elderly in greater numbers. As the virus spread, vulnerable people, including those with pre-existing conditions and the elderly, took precautions and quarantined. Between June and August, patients in their 20s had the highest incidence of COVID-19.

As clinicians learn more about the virus; they are better at treating the disease and its complications. First, proning has become a more common treatment in critical care settings. Proning is a procedure where medical staff rolls a patient onto their abdomen to help them breathe better while on mechanical ventilation. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) showed proning is also effective in non-intubated patients.

Blood clotting has been identified as a potential complication of COVID-19 in the lungs, liver, kidney, and even the brain. A study in Amsterdam found that nearly one-third of people hospitalized with severe COVID-19 had complications from blood clots. With increased awareness, clots can be caught and treated earlier. Research is underway to determine the best course of treatment or prevention of clots.

Disclaimer: The information in this story is accurate as of its publication. However, the situation surrounding COVID-19 is ever-evolving. We are working to keep our stories up-to-date as changes occur, but we also encourage everyone to check news and recommendations from the CDC, WHO, and their local authorities.