More COVID patients needed ICU beds, ventilator and died during third virus wave

Four times as many COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care during Australia’s third wave of the virus compared to the first two combined, new research suggests.

A higher proportion of those who became ill between late June and early November last year required ventilation and a higher percentage of them eventually died.

The in-hospital mortality study was conducted by Monash University in collaboration with the Australian and New Zealand Intensive Care Society.

Demographic and clinical characteristics were compared, along with management and outcomes for ICU virus patients during all three waves of pandemic.

Data was collected from 78 hospitals and a total of 2,493 patients admitted to 59 intensive care units.

About 214, or nine percent, entered care in early 2020.

Another 296, or 12 percent, were admitted between July 2020 and the end of June last year, and 1,983, or 80 percent, during the third wave between then and November.

Dan Hadley, wearing a mask and gown, touches a screen displaying medical information
More than 19 percent of the total number of ICU beds were occupied by COVID patients during the third wave.ABC Melbourne: Kristian Silva

The proportion with no coexisting diseases was greatest during the third wave, at 41 percent, compared with 32 percent for the first and 29 percent for the second.

Similarly, more than 19 percent of total ICU beds were occupied by COVID patients during the third wave, while less than three percent during the first and just under five percent during the second.

Increased mortality

Ventilation was also most used during the last wave.

Thirty patients (14 percent) died in hospital during the first wave, 35 (12 percent) in the second and 281 (17 percent) during the third.

“After adjusting for age, disease severity and other covariates, the risk of in-hospital mortality was similar for the first and second waves, but 9.60 percentage points higher during the third than the first,” the researchers concluded.

medical personnel wearing protective clothing in a ward caring for a patient
There are approximately 227,000 active COVID cases nationwide.

Because the Delta variant was more virulent than previous strains and therefore more likely to require intensive care, they suggested this might explain their findings.

“It was also more transmissible and more likely to cause serious disease in younger people than previous strains that posed a greater threat to people over the age of 60,” said study leader Dr. Husna Begum.

“We found that the median age of patients decreased across the three waves, as did the proportion with multiple other medical conditions.

Across Australia, nearly 50,000 new cases of COVID-19 and 82 deaths were registered this weekend.

There are about 227,000 active cases across the country, the highest figure since June 7.

There are also more than 3,100 patients in hospital care, most in five weeks.