'Happy hypoxia', a newly discovered side-effect of the coronavirus capable of leaving a coronavirus patient unconscious or even dead, has left the medical fraternity baffled over the modus operandi adopted by the deadly virus while attacking the lungs.
The pandemic, since its origin in China's Wuhan province in December last year, has infected nearly 3.6 million and killed over 249,000. Scientists across the globe are racing against time to find a possible cure for the pandemic that has stopped the world in its tracks.
What is happy hypoxia?
Happy hypoxia, also called silent hypoxia, is a medical condition in which the oxygen concentration level in the coronavirus patient drops below 60 per cent. Despite the dangerously low level of the oxygen, the patient feels comfortable, due to which the condition often remains undetected.
In case of a healthy person, the oxygen saturation level in body is at least 90 per cent. But in case of COVID-19 patients, in the age group of 70- 80 years, the oxygen level was found dangerously low, even 50 per cent in some cases. The brain, heart, and other vital organs are under threat in the absence of sufficient oxygen supply in the body.
Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Jonathan Bannard-Smith, a consultant in critical care and anaesthesia at Manchester Royal Infirmary, said: "It's intriguing to see so many people coming in, quite how hypoxic they are. We're seeing oxygen saturations that are very low and they're unaware of that."
"We wouldn't usually see this phenomenon in influenza or community-acquired pneumonia. It's very much more profound and an example of very abnormal physiology going on before our eyes. I don't think any of us expect that what we're seeing can be explained by one process."
Coronavirus patients are often unaware of happy hypoxia
Science magazine reported that patients with extraordinarily low blood-oxygen levels are unaware of their condition, scrolling on their phones, chatting with doctors, and generally describing themselves as comfortable.
Referring to the baffling discovery, Reuben Strayer, an emergency physician at Maimonides Medical Center in New York City, said: "There is a mismatch [between] what we see on the monitor and what the patient looks like in front of us." According to the magazine, the doctor first discovered the phenomenon in March as patients arrived in the emergency room.
Raising concern over happy hypoxia capable of causing massive organ damage, which might go unnoticed, Dr. Mike Charlesworth, an anesthetist at Wythenshawe Hospital located in Manchester, told The Guardian that patients suffering from severe hypoxia should appear extremely ill.
"With pneumonia or a pulmonary embolism they wouldn't be sat up in bed talking to you. We just don't understand it. We don't know if it's causing organ damage that we're not able to detect. We don't understand if the body's compensating," added Dr. Charlesworth.