Spate of sudden deaths ‘a public crisis’

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By Shermain Bique-Charles
[email protected]

So far the only predictable thing about the coronavirus is that it’s unpredictable.

It first got doctors’ attention by damaging the lungs but medics have since found it can have devastating consequences in other ways too.

Recent research suggests Covid-19 can form blood clots – or deep vein thrombosis – which can spread to the heart, brain and kidneys.

Studies reveal that some people who presented no symptoms of the virus have been found dead in their homes or – as one medical professional put it – “dropping like flies”.

In the last month, 10 men have died unexpectedly in Antigua and Barbuda. And while there is no evidence to suggest any of them were virus-related – and in some cases it appears to have been ruled out – the new findings will do little to alleviate public fears that Covid-19 can cause abrupt fatalities.

Prominent surgeon Dr Joseph “Joey” John believes there may be a link.

“In my business, coincidence essentially doesn’t exist, far less when you have 10 men succumbing to sudden death within a month with no significant comorbidities or underlying illness all in a population of 100,000. This in my mind constitutes a public crisis,” he said.

He said although there is no consensus on the issue – or what can be done about it – inactivity amid the lockdown could be a risk factor.

“Being at home for the past two weeks, possibly folks being inactive or some may be lying down all day or sitting in the same position. This may very well be an issue of blood clots even if there is no way to know for sure,” he told Observer on Monday.

He said it is of paramount importance that the country gets to the bottom of the cause of the sudden deaths but he admitted that it cannot be done in the absence of on-site testing.

“At this time, we can only speculate or try to talk about what the possibilities are but we would need autopsies. If we had rapid test kits available these could be deployed on site to know if the patients have the coronavirus or not. If we find out it is Covid-related, this would indicate a widespread problem,” he argued.

Ordinarily, in the event of a sudden death, Dr John said there are typically two main causes – a heart attack or a pulmonary embolism, blockage of an artery in the lungs by a substance that has moved from elsewhere in the body through the bloodstream.

He said medical research as recent as Monday showed that some Covid-19 patients admitted to ICU beds across the world had significant clotting problems.

He referred to several studies, including one in the Netherlands that found that 31 percent of 184 ICU patients with Covid-19 had blood clotting issues — a finding researchers called “remarkably high”.

Earlier research in China looked at a sample of 183 Covid-19 patients and found that 71 percent of them who died had small clots throughout their bloodstream.

It’s unknown whether the coronavirus itself causes blood clots or whether the body’s massive inflammatory response to fight the virus is what damages blood vessels and blood cells.

In the absence of solid evidence, and regardless of whether blood clots caused by Covid-19 are responsible for even one of the 10 deaths, Dr John is advising residents to remain active.

“Get up and be active around the house, get involved in an exercise routine at home, stay active,” Dr John added.

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