Italians over the age of 80 who contract the coronavirus could be left to die in the country's hardest-hit regions, a new report claims.
The Telegraph reported on Saturday that a draft proposal for how to ration care in areas of Italy with the most widespread outbreak of the virus proposes denying intensive care to people over the age of 80 who are in poor health. The protocol would only be put in place if the pressure on hospital beds continues to increase, the newspaper report claimed, citing a document prepared by a crisis management unit in the city of Turin.
But if the situation did grow so dire that hospital officials had to make decisions about who could receive care, the oldest and most vulnerable patients could be left out, the report claimed.
"Some patients denied intensive care will in effect be left to die, doctors fear," the report stated.
It was not clear if there were any plans to put the protocol in place, and it was also unclear just how much of a hospital bed shortage it would take to enact the harsh measures.
The novel coronavirus has been especially dangerous for elderly patients, with the highest death rate among those 80 and older. As Vox reported, that has been the case in Italy where the average age of the 105 people who had died by the end of last week was 81. The report added that in Lombardy, the epicenter of the outbreak, there had only been two deaths of people younger than age 50.
That is particularly dangerous in Italy, which the report noted had the world's oldest population. The proposed cutoff for intensive care services in the hardest-hit Italian regions also appears to be based on the survival rate.
"Immune function is not as robust as it is in younger people," Sean Leng, a geriatrician and a professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told Vox.
"Studies over the years have shown that in most people, their immune function is pretty okay in their 60s, or even in their 70s. The immune functions go down rather quickly after age 75 or 80."Many countries around the world have instituted strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus, including both Italy and Spain, where governments have instituted shutdowns of all but the most essential businesses.
Other officials in Italy have said that they are still working to treat all patients and are taking into account several factors including pre-existing conditions, age, and likelihood to respond to treatment.