From the Journals

Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests soar during COVID-19 in Italy


Out-of-hospital cardiac arrests increased 58% during the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak in the hard-hit region of Lombardy, Italy, compared with the same period last year, a new analysis shows.

During the first 40 days of the outbreak beginning Feb. 21, four provinces in northern Italy reported 362 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest compared with 229 during the same period in 2019.

The increases in these provinces varied in magnitude from 18% in Mantua, where there were 1,688 confirmed COVID-19 cases, to 187% in Lodi, which had 2,116 COVID-19 cases. The Cremona province, which had the highest number of COVID-19 cases at 3,869, saw a 143% increase in out-of-hospital cardiac arrests.

The mortality rate in the field was 14.9 percentage points higher in 2020 than in 2019 among patients in whom resuscitation was attempted by emergency medical services (EMS), Enrico Baldi, MD, University of Pavia, Italy, and colleagues reported in a letter April 29 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“The sex and age of the patients were similar in the 2020 and 2019 periods, but in 2020, the incidence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest due to a medical cause was 6.5 percentage points higher, the incidence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest at home was 7.3 percentage points higher, and the incidence of unwitnessed cardiac arrest was 11.3 percentage points higher,” the authors wrote.

Patients were also less likely to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation from bystanders in 2020 vs 2019 (–15.6 percentage points) and were more likely to die before reaching the hospital when resuscitation was attempted by EMS (+14.9 percentage points).

Among all patients, the death rate in the field increased 11.4 percentage points during the outbreak, from 77.3% in 2019 to 88.7% in 2020.

The cumulative incidence of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest in 2020 was “strongly associated” with the cumulative incidence of COVID-19 (Spearman rank correlation coefficient, 0.87; 95% confidence interval, 0.83-0.91) and the spike in cases “followed the time course of the COVID-19 outbreak,” the researchers noted.

A total of 103 patients, who arrested out of hospital and were diagnosed with or suspected of having COVID-19, “account for 77.4% of the increase in cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest observed in these provinces in 2020,” the investigators noted.

As the pandemic has taken hold, hospitals and physicians across the United States are also voicing concerns about the drop in the number of patients presenting with myocardial infarction (MI) or stroke.

Nearly one-third of Americans (29%) report having delayed or avoided medical care because of concerns of catching COVID-19, according to a new poll released April 28 from the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) and Morning Consult, a global data research firm.

Despite many emergency departments reporting a decline in patient volume, 74% of respondents said they were worried about hospital wait times and overcrowding. Another 59% expressed concerns about being turned away from the hospital or doctor’s office.

At the same time, the survey found strong support for emergency physicians and 73% of respondents said they were concerned about overstressing the health care system.

The drop-off in Americans seeking care for MI and strokes nationally prompted eight professional societies – including ACEP, the American Heart Association, and the Association of Black Cardiologists – to issue a joint statement urging those experiencing symptoms to call 911 and seek care for these life-threatening events.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

A version of this article originally appeared on

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