COVID-19: WHO’s new coronavirus treatment guidelines – what’s changed and why

New advice on how to treat coronavirus has been issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO) – as it also begins a wide-reaching study into the effects of so-called “long COVID”.

For COVID-19 patients at home, the WHO is now suggesting the use of a pulse oximetry machine to measure oxygen levels in the blood – but warns that this should only be done after full patient education and with medical follow-up support if necessary.

For hospitalised patients, the WHO is recommending the use of low-dose anticoagulants to prevent clots forming in blood vessels, known as thrombosis.

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And for sufferers who are already using supplemental oxygen, the organisation is officially endorsing the positioning of patients on their stomachs to increase oxygen flow. This is known as “awake prone positioning”.

Experts have been divided on the effectiveness of this method, with some even claiming it is counter-productive, but the health organisation said its advice had come from its Guideline Development Group – an independent panel of scientists, clinicians, patients and ethicists – and was based on detailed review “all available evidence”.

The new guidelines also include a recommendation that healthcare professionals favour “clinical judgement over models” in making decisions for individual patients.

Long COVID is another area the group is now focussing on. Evidence has been gathered on what it calls “the post-COVID condition”, where people who have recovered from COVID-19 continue to have longer-term issues like extreme fatigue, persistent cough and exercise intolerance.

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And next month the WHO will organise a series of consultations with subject experts and patients, to reach a better understanding of the condition and its variations.

All of the updated advice and future steps are contained in the WHO COVID-19 Clinical Management, Living Guidance document which says the group would “continue to monitor the situation closely for any changes that may affect this interim guidance”.

It comes as WHO independent experts, who have been in the Chinese city of Wuhan studying the virus’s origins, are about to leave quarantine and begin analysing their findings.

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