Covid-19 mortality rate is falling in Sweden’s intensive care units

Covid-19 mortality rate is falling in Sweden's intensive care units
An intensive care team at work at Södertälje hospital. Photo: Staffan Löwstedt/SvD/TT
The fatality rate among people receiving intensive care treatment for coronavirus in Sweden has fallen.

Correction: After publication the Swedish Intensive Care Register reported that it had discovered an error in its report, on which the figures reported by SVT were based. The article has been corrected to reflect that the mortality rate of Covid-19 patients in April and May were 21 and 19 percent, respectively, not 19 and 4 percent as originally stated. The Swedish Intensive Care Register writes that it apologises for the error.

The figures still show a falling mortality rate, but not as sharp a fall as previously reported. The interviews by SVT below are based on the original, erroneous figures. The Local would like to thank the reader who got in touch to report the error. Our editorial team can always be contacted on [email protected].

Mortality rate (measured as the proportion of patients who die within 30 days of admission) has fallen from 34 percent in March to 21 percent in April and 19 percent in May, an analysis by SVT based on Swedish Intensive Care Register data shows.

It's not clear exactly what the fall is due to, but there are a few likely factors.

One is that after more time dealing with and learning about the virus, medical staff have been able to give a better quality of treatment based on previous experiences.

“Over time, we've learned more about when and how to use ventilator treatment. That we should give higher doses of blood-thinning medicines since there's a risk of thrombosis. And that using cortisone seems to have positive effects,” Björn Persson, head of intensive care at Karolinska University Hospital, told the site.

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Photo: Staffan Löwstedt/SvD/TT

Another possible reason is a shift in exactly who receives intensive care. 

Over the course of the pandemic, a smaller proportion of intensive care patients have been aged over 70 due to a change in guidelines. These are based on the fact that some older, frail patients are unlikely to survive the intensive treatment.

The question of priorities has however been a major talking point during the crisis, with some doctors raising the alarm that people may have been turned away from intensive care even when they could have benefited.

Sweden's Healthcare Inspectorate is currently investigating how that has affected patients' access to intensive care in the Stockholm region, after reports that too many coronavirus patients were being rejected.

It could also be the case that there has been a change in the virus itself, such as a mutation that makes it less deadly.

Meanwhile, the number of new admissions to intensive care in Sweden for coronavirus is also continuing to fall.

Since June 26th, fewer than ten patients have been newly admitted per day, a fall from the peak of 62 new admissions on April 24th. As of July 7th, a total of 103 people were receiving intensive care treatment for coronavirus around the country, with the highest numbers in the Västra Götaland and Stockholm regions.

However, the healthcare system remains under pressure, particularly within elderly care and advanced home care, and the proportion of available capacity varies quite significantly from region to region. 

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  1. Now the question is, is it falling due to better treatment, or because the most vulnerable have already been taken from us? The number of deaths is also falling here in the USA but there is a new strain of the virus which seems less deadly here.

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