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What is a respirator and why they are essential for the treatment of COVID-19

April 13, 2020

Respirators are the most frequent topic we find in the news as the coronavirus pandemic takes over the world.

4 min read

This story originally appeared on World Economic Forum

What is a respirator and why they are essential for the treatment of COVID-19What is a respirator and why they are essential for the treatment of COVID-19

By Emma Charlton

During the coronavirus pandemic , respirators have become a hot topic of debate. There are not enough, they are not where they should be, people have to share them, some people try to make their own and the best engineers in the world are working to expand production.

Respirators are machines that help patients who cannot breathe on their own. They blow air, sometimes air with extra oxygen, through the airways into the lungs. Some also help patients to expel air.

Image: ONS

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. While around 80% of people who get it recover without special treatment, about 1 in 6 become seriously ill and develop respiratory difficulties, according to the World Health Organization.

That's where respirators come in. They help the lungs as the body fights infection and, hopefully, recovers. According to a study by Imperial College London, around 30% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 are likely to require mechanical respiration .

Is not sufficient

With the rapid advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries face a shortage of respirators, forcing front-line physicians to make difficult decisions about who gets them and who doesn't.

Patients share respirators at a New York hospital, according to the New York Times, a tactic that has been used before in crisis situations, including during the coronavirus outbreak in Italy and immediately after the Las Vegas shooting in 2017.

In this situation we find ourselves: sharing respirators and facing serious dilemmas such as choosing who will receive breathing when everyone should. #TakeThisSeriously , you have to take it very seriously. I never thought it was that serious. Thanks to   @PulmCrit for inspiration and advice.

In many countries, companies and governments are working together to make more respirators and do it fast. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has asked more than 60 manufacturing companies to help accelerate the production of medical equipment , including respirators.

But there is good news: Britain's high-tech advanced manufacturing resource is solving the respirator problem fast. The first batch of new NHS respirators will be manufactured this weekend.

But respirators are not a panacea. Inserting a breathing tube into the airways can increase the risk of getting a lung infection . Breathing tubes can also make coughing difficult, which is a way the body removes irritating agents.

The message from the World Health Organization remains the same: Maintain social distance, stay at least a meter from anyone who is coughing or sneezing, and wash your hands frequently.

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