In the midst of the coronavirus epidemic/pandemic it bears remembering the application of hyperbaric oxygen therapy to the last major pandemic that impacted the United States in 1918, the Spanish Flu Pandemic. Death was primarily by pulmonary infection and its attendant hypoxemia and respiratory failure. The first application of hyperbaric medicine to a Spanish Flu victim was likely also the first application to a human being in the United States. In 1918 Dr. Orval Cunningham of Kansas City was brought a dying friend of a fellow physician. The patient was moribund and blue. Before Cunningham could perform his planned animal experiments he was asked to treat this dying patient. With just a one-hour treatment with compressed air at 1.68 atmospheres absolute the patient experienced improvement. Combined with additional hyperbaric treatments over the next 3 days this patient’s life was saved. Others followed.
Today’s coronavirus’ mortality is due to pulmonary infection and respiratory failure. While there are differences between the Spanish Flu and coronavirus the primary pathology is in the lungs, the first organ of contact with hyperbaric therapy beyond the skin. The ability of hyperbaric oxygen to penetrate inflammatory pulmonary secretions allows adequate oxygen to reach the blood while inhibiting the inflammatory process. Applied correctly, hyperbaric therapy may have utility in coronavirus patients similar to its life-saving history with the Spanish Flu.
Potential of HBOT Treatment for Coronavirus is Supported by New Evidence. However, Be Cautious of Opportunists!
Two new pieces of evidence have surfaced supporting Dr Harch’s original proposal of 3/3/2020 to consider HBOT for the treatment of coronavirus infection.
Today, the publication of a retrospective analysis of lung CT scans on 121 patients infected with coronavirus in four Chinese provinces was announced. The CT scans showed progressive air space disease that radiologically depicted the diffusion barrier to oxygen that Dr. Harch suggested was similar to the lung pathology in Spanish Flu victims of 1918.
Simultaneously, Dr. Harch’s research assistant found evidence of successful treatment of a severe case of coronavirus infection in Wuhan, China. The patient was treated through the critical period with a similar number of daily hyperbaric treatments that Dr. Orval Cunningham used on his Spanish Flu cases in 1918. This Chinese patient managed to successfully traverse the critically ill period and was no longer in jeopardy.
This successful treatment, however, is a double-edged sword. Infection transmission is facilitated in hyperbaric chamber environments. Look no further than saturation diving conditions, where strict sanitation and infection control measures are industry standards. Coronavirus-infected patients should only be treated by medical professionals who are trained, experienced, and equipped to provide HBOT treatment under strict infection mitigated conditions.
Beware of clinics and opportunists advertising to “boost immunity” or treat coronavirus patients in portable chambers or other chambers in freestanding centers without qualified healthcare professionals trained, experienced and equipped to practice with strict infection control. This type of opportunism has beset the hyperbaric medicine field for centuries. Opportunists like this are responsible for the disparagement of hyperbaric therapy that has overshadowed the science and clinical wonder of this therapy. Hyperbaric clinics that are not equipped to treat coronavirus will act as vectors to amplify disease dissemination. Beware!
Dr. Paul Harch