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A US based ER physician writes about the experience of COVID19 management at his hospital

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Clinical Course

2-11 days after exposure (day 5 on average) flu like symptoms start. Common are fever, headache, dry cough, myalgias(back pain), nausea without vomiting, abdominal discomfort with some diarrhea, loss of smell, anorexia, fatigue.

Day 5 of symptoms- increased SOB, and bilateral viral pneumonia from direct viral damage to lung parenchyma.

Day 10– Cytokine storm leading to acute ARDS and multiorgan failure. You can literally watch it happen in a matter of hours.

81% mild symptoms, 14% severe symptoms requiring hospitalization, 5% critical.

Patient presentation is varied. Patients are coming in hypoxic (even 75%) without dyspnea. I have seen Covid patients present with encephalopathy, renal failure from dehydration, DKA. I have seen the bilateral interstitial pneumonia on the xray of the asymptomatic shoulder dislocation or on the CT’s of the (respiratory) asymptomatic polytrauma patient. Essentially if they are in my ER, they have it. Seen three positive flu swabs in 2 weeks and all three had Covid 19 as well. 

China reported 15% cardiac involvement. I have seen covid 19 patients present with myocarditis, pericarditis, new onset CHF and new onset atrial fibrillation. 

Diagnosis

CXR- bilateral interstitial pneumonia (anecdotally starts most often in the RLL so bilateral on CXR is not required). The hypoxia does not correlate with the CXR findings. Their lungs do not sound bad. Keep your stethoscope in your pocket and evaluate with your eyes and pulse ox.

Labs– WBC low, Lymphocytes low, platelets lower then their normal, Procalcitonin normal in 95%
CRP and Ferritin elevated most often. CPK, D-Dimer, LDH, Alk Phos/AST/ALT commonly elevated.
Notice D-Dimer- I would be very careful about CT PE these patients for their hypoxia. The patients receiving IV contrast are going into renal failure and on the vent sooner.

Basically, if you have a bilateral pneumonia with normal to low WBC, lymphopenia, normal procalcitonin, elevated CRP and ferritin- you have covid-19 and do not need a nasal swab to tell you that.

A ratio of absolute neutrophil count to absolute lymphocyte count greater than 3.5 may be the highest predictor of poor outcome. the UK is automatically intubating these patients for expected outcomes regardless of their clinical presentation.

An elevated Interleukin-6 (IL6) is an indicator of their cytokine storm. If this is elevated watch these patients closely with both eyes.

Other factors that appear to be predictive of poor outcomes are thrombocytopenia and LFTs 5x upper limit of normal.      

 

Disposition from the ER

I had never discharged multifocal pneumonia before. Now I personally do it 12-15 times a shift. 2 weeks ago we were admitting anyone who needed supplemental oxygen. Now we are discharging with oxygen if the patient is comfortable and oxygenating above 92% on nasal cannula. We have contracted with a company that sends a paramedic to their home twice daily to check on them and record a pulse ox. We know many of these patients will bounce back but if it saves a bed for a day we have accomplished something. Obviously we are fearful some won’t make it back.

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