The pandemic SARS-CoV-2 virus, which emerged at the beginning of this year, still represents a major challenge. As numerous examples from other countries have shown, unchecked waves with large numbers of simultaneous Covid-19 cases place a significant burden on hospitals, and intensive care units in particular, resulting in negative consequences, including in terms of caring for patients with other conditions.
Due to a lack of immunity against the new virus in the general population, waves of infections can spread rapidly, mainly affecting the over-65s, who are at significant risk of suffering serious illness as a result of Covid-19. In a fully functional health system, the risk of an individual dying from Covid-19 is low, at a presumed rate of around 0.3% of those who contract it, but in regions where the spread of the virus is out of control, the risk is many times higher and increases sharply with age. So far, the factors that result in a high personal risk of developing a serious case of Covid-19 are still largely unknown.
Ensuring that inpatient capacity is not overburdened is a key requirement for an effective health system. Regardless of the current pandemic, some highly developed healthcare systems are already under considerable strain, with around 90% of sophisticated intensive-care resources currently in use. As a result, the admission of large numbers of Covid-19 patients will inevitably lead to bottlenecks in the provision of treatment. Furthermore, on average, Covid-19 sufferers spend more than twice as long in intensive care, compared to the average for all intensive care patients.
According to estimates from the WHO, a maximum of 10% of the world’s population has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2 so far, meaning that the vast majority of people on the planet are susceptible to Covid-19. The spread of the virus can be reduced effectively by limiting personal contact and promoting general hygiene measures. Avoiding situations where distancing is not possible and there is a higher potential rate of infection is playing a crucial role in efforts to stem the pandemic. As the SARS-CoV-2 virus is mainly passed on by means of droplets produced, for example, when speaking, and by particles (aerosols) that remain in the air for longer, wearing a mask is a proven and effective additional preventive measure.
The virus can be transmitted by infected individuals before they develop symptoms, meaning that identifying and isolating both infectious people and symptomatic patients will play a decisive part in bringing the spread of infection under control.
Clinical management and the prognosis for Covid-19 sufferers have improved since the early stages of this year. However, there is still no efficient, causal treatment for the disease. The situation is only likely to improve once a vaccine becomes available. In all probability, an effective vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 will come onto the market in the course of 2021. In any case, developed countries will only approve a vaccine if it demonstrates a positive risk-benefit ratio.
Medical University of Vienna
Stephan Aberle, Judith Aberle, Heinz Burgmann, Hans-Peter Hutter, Klaus Markstaller, Markus Müller, Elisabeth Puchhammer-Stöckl, Monika Redlberger-Fritz, Anita Rieder, Eva Schernhammer, Christoph Steininger, Robert Strassl, Miranda Suchomel, Florian Thalhammer, Stefan Thurner, Rudolf Valenta, Oswald Wagner, Ursula Wiedermann-Schmidt, Markus Zeitlinger
Medical University of Innsbruck
Dorothee von Laer, Günter Weiss
Medical University of Graz
Philipp Metnitz, Robert Krause
Kepler University Hospital Linz, Faculty of Medicine, Johannes Kepler University Linz
Department of Medicine 3, University Hospital Salzburg
Wiener Gesundheitsverbund (Vienna Health Association)
Wiener Gesundheitsverbund, Favoriten Hospital
Austrian Medical Chamber