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COVID-19 | All about oxygen concentrators and when one should use them

Explaining the appropriate usage of concentrators, Sanyogita Naik, Professor and Head of Department Anaesthesia, BJ Medical College, Pune, said: “Oxygen concentrators can be used only in moderate cases of COVID-19 when the patient experiences a drop in oxygen levels, where the oxygen requirement is a maximum of five litres per minute.”

May 01, 2021 / 04:10 PM IST
Oxygen concentrator (Image: PIB)

Oxygen concentrator (Image: PIB)

The ferocity of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in India has caught everyone off-guard. The sharp rise in the number of active cases over the past month has greatly stressed the country’s health infrastructure and led to a massive spike in the demand for oxygen concentrators.

So, let's delve deeper and understand what oxygen concentrators really are. When are they required and how should they be used?

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare gives a quick lowdown on the device that is of prime importance at the moment.

The Health Ministry explained, a steady supply of oxygen in the body is crucial for survival, which gets affected when a person contracts COVID-19. The viral respiratory disease that affects the functioning of our lungs, often causes oxygen level in the body to drop to dangerous levels.

In such situation, one needs to undergo oxygen therapy, which is a medical treatment that enhances our oxygen levels to clinically acceptable levels.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Now, oxygen level is measured by oxygen saturation (SpO2) -- the amount of oxygen-carrying haemoglobin in the blood. A healthy individual with normal lungs has SpO2 of 95–100 percent.

As per clinical guidance for management of adult COVID-19 patients issued by the Health Ministry, an oxygen concentration less than or equal to 93 percent on room air requires hospital admission, while that below 90 percent is classified as a severe disease, requiring admission in ICU.

How do oxygen concentrators work?

Atmospheric air has roughly 78 percent nitrogen and 21 percent oxygen. Oxygen concentrators take in the ambient air and increase the oxygen concentration, by filtering out the nitrogen.

These concentrators work the same way in supplying oxygen needed by the body such as oxygen tanks or cylinders, with the use of a cannula, oxygen masks, or nasal tubes. The difference is that, while the cylinders need to be refilled, oxygen concentrators can work 24x7.

Who can use them and when?

Explaining the appropriate usage of concentrators, Sanyogita Naik, Professor and Head of Department Anaesthesia, BJ Medical College, Pune, said: “Oxygen concentrators can be used only in moderate cases of COVID-19 when the patient experiences a drop in oxygen levels, where the oxygen requirement is a maximum of five litres per minute.”

Oxygen concentrators are also useful for patients experiencing post-COVID complications which necessitate oxygen therapy.

Can we use them on our own?

The answer is a strict no.

Dr Chaitanya H Balakrishnan, COVID-19 Coordinator, St John’s Medical College Hospital, Bangalore, said: “Patients with moderate pneumonia induced by COVID-19 - with oxygen saturation less than 94 - can benefit from supplemental oxygen given through oxygen concentrator, but only till they get hospital admission. However, patients using it themselves without suitable medical advice can be harmful.”

Dr Chaitanya further explained: “So, till you get a bed, oxygen concentrator can be beneficial, but definitely not without guidance from chest physician or internal medicine specialist. It also depends on patients' pre-existing lung conditions.”

Notably, depending upon the capacity, oxygen concentrators cost upwards of Rs 30,000.

O2 concentrators market in India

India has seen a big spurt in the manufacture and sale of oxygen concentrators. Besides multi-national brands, several Indian start-ups, funded under the CAWACH (Centre for Augmenting War with COVID-19 Health Crisis) programme of Department of Science & Technology, have developed efficient and cost-effective oxygen concentrators.

Given their usefulness during the second wave of the pandemic, one lakh oxygen concentrators are being procured through the PM CARES fund.

Follow our coverage of the coronavirus crisis here
Moneycontrol News
first published: May 1, 2021 04:10 pm

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