Someone collapses with a cardiac arrest nearby -- in the COVID-19 era, do you dare to assist?
Here's some reassuring -- and potentially lifesaving -- news: You're at low risk for coronavirus infection if you perform CPR on someone in cardiac arrest, new research shows.
CPR can save the lives of people who suffer cardiac arrest in a public place. But concerns have been raised during the current pandemic that chest compressions used in CPR could release respiratory droplets containing the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
"We believe the current findings support telecommunicators and bystanders maintaining the most efficient approach that prioritizes rapid identification of cardiac arrest and immediately proceeds to chest compressions and use of a defibrillator," wrote study authors led by Dr. Michael Sayre, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle.
"Delaying bystander CPR to [put on personal protective equipment] should only be considered when the prevalence of COVID-19 infection is substantially increased," the researchers concluded.
To assess the risk, researchers analyzed Seattle EMS and hospital data from Jan. 1 to mid-April. During that time, EMS responded to 1,067 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, of which 478 were treated by EMS with CPR.
During the active period of COVID-19 (Feb. 26-April 15) in the study, EMS responded to 537 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, of which 230 (48%) received CPR from EMS.
As of April 15, Seattle had 15 deaths per 100,000 population from COVID-19, higher than 42 other states at that time. COVID-19 was diagnosed in less than 10% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests.
Assuming the risk of coronavirus transmission to bystanders performing hands-only CPR without personal protective equipment is 10%, treating 100 patients could result in one bystander infection (10% with COVID-19 multiplied by 10% transmission rate), according to the researchers.
Given a 1% death rate for COVID-19, about one rescuer might die in 10,000 cases of bystander CPR. By comparison, bystander CPR saves more than 300 additional lives among 10,000 patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest.
The findings were outlined in a research letter published June 4 in the journal Circulation.
The American Heart Association has more on CPR.