News National Coronavirus hope: Melbourne researchers weigh up ventilator plan

Coronavirus hope: Melbourne researchers weigh up ventilator plan

As authorities around the world grapple with a possible ventilator shortage, Australian researchers have an idea to put two patients on one device. Photo: Getty
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Doctors around the world are struggling to get more ventilator machines to keep COVID-19 patients breathing. Now Australian researchers have come come up with an idea to help combat the global shortage.

In a study to be released on Tuesday, the research team reveals how ‘splitting’ a ventilator could make it possible for two patients to be hooked up to one machine.

The coronavirus has been shown to lead to severe respiratory failure and viral inflammation of lung tissue which can kill.

In severe cases, patients need to be hooked up to a ventilator machine in hospital to keep their breathing going while their bodies fight the virus.

Using the machines involves sedating a patient and sticking a tube into the throat so that oxygen can be forced into the body.

Hospitals across the globe are experiencing ventilator shortages amid COVID-19. In response, Australian government has set up a task force to investigate ways to manufacture the devices.

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration have already passed emergency use authorisation for the splitting of ventilators.

Ventilator splitting is when two or more patients are connected to one ventilator and both are exposed to the same circuit dynamics.

While the researchers from Monash University, The Alfred and The Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne do not condone ventilator splitting, they argue in the new study that it could be done in extreme emergencies such as COVID-19.

“Patients with COVID-19 may develop progressive viral pneumonitis leading to severe respiratory failure,” study lead Alexander Clarke writes in the international journal Anaesthesia.

“While ventilator splitting has, at face value, validity in addressing ventilator shortages, we agree that on sober reflection, it is a solution that needs to be weighed up carefully as it may cause more harm than good.”

The process is challenged as ventilation needs differ between patients and splitting could make it difficult to monitor individual oxygen flow and pressure. There are also concerns the infection could be passed between patients via the equipment.

The study researchers warn the findings need to be interpreted and applied with caution.

“We are hopeful of one day being able to get great surety with this approach to ventilator splitting so we can help save lives in dire cases of emergency,” Monash University’s Shaun Gregory said.

Until there are further trials, researchers warn against wider use.

-with AAP