Doctors in China say using a life-support machine to replace a patient’s lung function can save those dying of the new virus which has emerged in the country.
At least 531 people have been infected by the coronavirus, which has never been seen before, and 17 have died.
There is no known cure for the illness, which is usually mild but can lead to deadly cases of pneumonia, and patients are isolated while they recover naturally.
Some patients – apparently the elderly and those with long-term illnesses – become gravely ill and need intensive care to keep them alive.
Medics in major hospitals in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, are have used a machine which bypasses the lungs and artificially pumps oxygen into the body to treat the most severe patients.
They said doing this allowed the lungs, which may have become filled with fluid, to relax and recover.
Doctors at the Zhongnan Hospital in Wuhan, the city at the centre of the outbreak, say they have saved a critically ill patient using a machine which does the work of their heart and lungs for them (pictured)
Dr Xiajian, a director at Wuhan’s Zhongnan Hospital, told Chinese news site The Paper: ‘This new coronavirus damages the patient’s lungs and turns them into “virus lungs”.
‘Patients with severe condition have seen their lungs damaged seriously, impacting the organs’ normal function.
‘We adopted the methods of putting an artificial lung device outside the patient’s body to replace the function of their lungs, letting their own lungs to have sufficient treatment and rest.’
Dr Xiajin runs Zhongnan Hospital’s centre for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), the name for the procedure.
WHAT IS THE NEW CORONAVIRUS SPREADING FROM CHINA?
An outbreak of pneumonia-like illnesses began in Wuhan, China, at the end of 2019.
Its symptoms are typically a fever, cough and trouble breathing, but some patients have developed pneumonia, a potentially life-threatening infection that causes inflammation of the small air sacs in the lungs.
Scientists in China recognized its similarity to two viruses that turned into global killers: SARS and MERS.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome is caused by the SARS coronavirus, known as SARS Co, and first emerged in China in 2002.
By the end of the outbreak, the virus had spread to several other Asian countries as well as the UK and Canada, killing 774.
MERS, or Middle East respirator syndrome originated in the region for which it’s named, ultimately killed 787 people and belongs to the same family of coronaviruses as SARS.
The new virus wasn’t a match for either of those two, but it did belong to the same coronavirus family.
Coronaviruses are a large family of pathogens, and most cause mild respiratory infections – i.e. the common cold.
But because the SARS and MERS proved deadly, the emergence of another new coronavirus has health officials on edge around the world.
Like its two dangerous cousins, the new coronavirus appears to have originated with animals – particularly seafood, chickens, bats, marmots – found at a Wuhan market that’s been identified as the epicenter of the outbreak.
The symptoms of SARS, which may be similar to those of the new coronavirus, include:
- a high temperature (fever)
- extreme tiredness (fatigue)
- muscle pain
- loss of appetite
After these symptoms, the infection will begin to affect your lungs and airways (respiratory system), leading to additional symptoms, such as:
- a dry cough
- breathing difficulties
- an increasing lack of oxygen in the blood, which can be fatal in the most severe cases
So far, there isn’t a treatment for the new virus or SARS, though the new virus has been sequenced, allowing for rapid diagnostics.
It is widely used around the world by Dr Xiajin has revealed he and his staff are now using it to treat patients with the new coronavirus.
The number of people infected with the illness rose above 500 people today in a fast-evolving international situation.
Most of the cases have been in China but officials in Thailand, Japan, South Korea and the US have all also confirmed infections.
Scientists in the UK estimate that as many as 9,700 people in Wuhan, where the outbreak began at the end of 2019 in a seafood market, have been infected.
Seventeen people have been killed by the coronavirus, which infects the lungs and can cause viral pneumonia.
This may cause fluid to build up on the lungs and the airways inside them to swell up, making difficult and eventually impossible to breathe.
Taking strain off the lungs using an ECMO machine, however, could allow them enough respite to recover, according to Dr Xiajian.
ECMO is a drastic life-support procedure which replaces the function of the heart and lungs by pumping oxygen into the blood outside the body.
It is used around the world to treat pneumonia patients, those with heart failure, or babies whose hearts or lungs don’t work properly, for example.
Dr Xiajian said: ‘After the infection in the patient’s lungs started to recover, the situation of the lack of oxygen got relieved and their lungs began to support the biological function, then the out-of-body lung device was removed.
‘Afterwards, the human lungs could sustain the normal body functioning, and we successfully saved the patient.’
The global situation is evolving rapidly around the virus and its spread.
Heathrow Airport announced it will take the extraordinary measure of separating all passengers flying into the UK from Wuhan – a flight is scheduled to land this evening.
And health chiefs have raised the threat level in the UK from ‘very low’ to ‘low’.
And an expert said this morning the outbreak currently has a death rate similar to the global Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, which went on to kill more than 50million people.
Wuhan officials have today ordered all residents to wear face masks in public places.
It emerged last night that the disease had reached the US. A man in his 30s from Washington State, who had travelled back from Wuhan, was confirmed to be the first American case.
US President Donald Trump today said America ‘has a plan’ to contain the spread of the virus, which officials have confirmed can spread between humans.
But British experts who fear there could already be a case of the never-before-seen virus in the UK have warned screening in the UK ‘is not foolproof’.