For first time since spring, more than half of Sweden’s ICU patients have Covid-19

For first time since spring, more than half of Sweden's ICU patients have Covid-19
A Covid-19 patient being brought into an intensive care ward in a Gothenburg hospital. Photo: Björn Larsson Rosvall/TT
The majority of patients in Sweden's intensive care units have Covid-19, which the National Board of Health and Welfare said had not been the case since spring.

Thomas Lindén, department head at the National Board of Health and Welfare, said that Sweden currently has 666 intensive care beds with ventilators, of which 464 are occupied, 237 of them Covid-19 patients.

That means that 28 percent of intensive care places are available, but he said that the situation varied between regions. All of Sweden's 21 regions currently have Covid-19 patients in intensive care.

Outside intensive care, a further 1,802 Covid-19 patients are receiving care in other departments of Sweden's hospitals. Up to December 1st, the Swedish Intensive Care Register shows that a total of 3,365 people have received intensive care for Covid-19 in the country. These patients had an average age of 60, while 21.2 percent of them were aged under 65 with no known risk factor.

“The risk of falling ill with Covid-19 and needing care is still high,” said Lindén. 

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“The healthcare sector is getting better and better at understanding and managing the emergency stage, but major challenges remain,” he said.

One of the challenges is learning more about how to deal with so-called 'long Covid', or long-term symptoms following an initial period of illness with the virus.

“It looks like you don't need to have been very seriously ill in the first instance in order to have serious symptoms later, it affects even those who had mild symptoms,” said Lindén, adding that young people and children – who typically have less severe illness from Covid-19 initially – could be affected by complications later.

The government asked the Swedish Agency for Health Technology Assessment and Assessment of Social Services (SBU) to look into what is being called 'long Covid', long-term symptoms caused by the coronavirus. It did this by reviewing research published so far, and assessing what the different studies said about how many people experience long Covid and which symptoms they have.

SBU's project manager Elizabeth Åhsberg told media that there is currently a lack of research available; after looking into thousands of articles, only 25 were sufficient in explaining which symptoms can be caused by long Covid.

“The perceived symptoms that have been reported have been ones that most people recognise – fatigue, shortness of breath, impaired sense of smell, chest pain, impaired quality of life, anxiety, depression and more,” she said.

Clinical tests also showed symptoms, primarily lung damage or impaired lung damage, but effects on other organs such as the heart and even brain were shown in some studies. 

It is unclear what proportion of Covid-19 patients experience long-term symptoms, with studies showing between 4 and 78 percent were affected, depending on what exactly was looked at and in what demographics.

 


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