Coronavirus pandemic: How 'flattening the curve' can ease burden on healthcare systems, minimise impact

The concept of 'flattening the curve' assumes importance as a way to ensure that the healthcare system can better deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

FP Staff March 17, 2020 21:19:14 IST
Coronavirus pandemic: How 'flattening the curve' can ease burden on healthcare systems, minimise impact

As authorities in India pull out all stops to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus , a frequently-voiced concern is whether the healthcare system in the country is prepared for a sudden spike in infections. It is this context that the concept of "flattening the curve" assumes importance, as a way to ensure that the healthcare system can better deal with the crisis.

What is 'flattening the curve'?

'Flattening the curve' of an infection essentially means using protective practices to slow the outbreak so that hospitals have rooms, supplies, and doctors for all those who need care.

In other words, if there is a sudden rise in cases of COVID-19 , hospitals may be left with inadequate resources to ensure treatment for all patients. But if the same number of patients seek treatment over a longer period of time, hospitals may be better equipped to deal with them.

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Representational image. PTI

Carl Bergestrom, biologist and co-creator of the 'flattening the curve' graph, has said on Twitter, "The steps we take now, individually and as a community, will determine the trajectory of the #COVID19 epidemic. This, in turn, will determine how many lives are lost. It is not just a matter of protecting yourself; it is a matter of protecting the most vulnerable among us."

The fear that healthcare systems may be overburdened by the sheer number of COVID-19 cases is not an unfounded one. According to a policy recently proposed by Italian authorities, coronavirus victims in Italy over 80 years of age may be denied intensive care if there is a shortage of beds.

'Flattening the curve' can be achieved by preventive measures such as washing hands, avoiding non-essential travel and ensuring social distancing.

As an article in The Indian Express notes, the novel coronavirus is not as fatal as H5N1 or bird flu. This, ironically, makes the infection more difficult to contain, since patients are more likely to be active, thus spreading the virus. This makes social distancing measures imperative.

An article in Live Science notes that flattening the curve as a response to epidemics has worked in the past. This was exemplified during the Spanish Flu outbreak in the United States in 1918. Two cities — Philadelphia and St Louis — handled the situation in very different manners, and the former reported a much higher toll. Philadelphia had conducted a massive parade despite the flu, and in the next six months, about 16,000 people died. On the other hand, St Louis closed schools, limited travel and encouraged personal hygiene. The city reported only 2,000 deaths in the same period.

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