The speedy recovery of a 103-year-old COVID-19 patient in Wuhan, Hubei province, has shed light on a low-tech but potentially effective method to improve the breathing of seniors stricken by the virus, medical experts said.
Zhou Hongfang, the centenarian, was admitted to a hospital on Dec 28 after her family members found she suddenly lost her appetite and became lethargic. A quick,at-home test showed that her blood oxygen level had dropped below the red line of 93 percent.
"Her COVID-19 symptoms are typical of seniors as they rarely develop high fever or feel like razor blades are cutting their throat, and often just experience fatigue, sleepiness and appetite loss," said Chen Guoxi, a doctor at Wuhan Pulmonary Hospital.
A CT scan at the hospital showed that the virus had attacked Zhou"s lungs, but due to her age and high blood pressure,Chen said she was not deemed suitable to take most COVID-19 drugs.
"Thus, we mostly relied on moderate oxygen therapy and 'proning' to improve her condition," he said.
Chen was referring to a method whereby patients are flipped over to lie on their stomach for about 12 hours a day, so as to open their lungs, increase blood oxygen and accelerate recovery.
The approach has been widely used for patients in comas in intensive care units. According to the latest treatment protocol released by the National Health Commission, the approach is also recommended for COVID-19 patients associated with risk factors, and those at risk of worsening rapidly.
Rehabilitating at home, Zhou has been able to take a stroll around the neighborhood with the help of a walking stick since Thursday.
"Her recovery reaffirms the efficacy of proning and boosts our confidence in treating very old COVID-19 patients," Chen said.
Jiang Rongmeng, vice-president of Beijing Ditan Hospital,also urged seniors above 70 years old to measure their oxygen blood levels daily and immediately rest on their belly when the reading declines to lower than 93 percent.
If the oxygen level hovers under 93 percent despite proning and at-home oxygen therapy, patients should be sent to a hospital, he said.