• Vol. 49 No. 3, 108–118
  • 15 March 2020

Rapid Progression to Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome: Review of Current Understanding of Critical Illness from Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Infection



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The outbreak of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in December 2019 in the city of Wuhan in Mainland China has spread across the globe with >100,000 infected individuals and 3000 deaths reported in 93 countries as of 7 March 2020. We report a case of COVID-19 infection in a 64-year-old man who developed rapidly worsening respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) that required intubation. As the clinical spectrum of COVID-19 infection ranges from mild illness to ARDS with high mortality risk, there is need for research that identifies early markers of disease severity. Current evidence suggests that patients with advanced age, dyspnoea or pre-existing comorbidities should be monitored closely, especially at 1–2 weeks after symptom onset. It remains to be seen whether laboratory findings such as lymphopaenia or elevated lactate dehydrogenase may serve as early surrogates for critical illness or markers of disease recovery. Management of ARDS in COVID-19 patients remains supportive while we await results of drug trials. More studies are needed to understand the incidence and outcomes of ARDS and critical illness from COVID-19 infection which are important for critical care management of patients and resource planning.

In this report, we describe a patient who developed acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) with rapid clinical deterioration. Unfortunately, not much is known about the clinical features and risk factors for ARDS and critical illness even as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to climb at an alarming rate throughout the world. However, recent published data suggested that advanced age and comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease may be associated with more severe disease. In this review, we examine current understanding of critical illness from COVID-19 infection and explore areas where research is urgently needed.

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