The third wave of the coronavirus pandemic is now putting significantly more pressure on Hungary’s healthcare system than ever before. More and more hospitals are operating at their maximum capacity, younger and healthier people are being infected more frequently, and deaths are increasing. The sudden surge is taking a terrible toll on healthcare workers’ mental and physical health.
Since Wednesday, there are 8,329 people hospitalized, a few hundred more than the December record of the second wave.
The number of people on ventilators, 911, has also exceeded previous numbers. The situation only seems to be getting worse.
The Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Hatvan is full, the pandemic hospital in Kiskunhalas is close to reaching its capacity, and a smaller hospital in Tata has been shut down since its workers needed to go to another in Tatabánya to help with the overwhelming numbers of patients.
Hungarian Healthcare Faces Surge in Cases
Dr. Norbert Frei of the Kiskunhalas Epidemic Hospital said that in this third wave, those aged between 40 and 50 are the most impacted, while it is also increasingly common for those around the age of 30 to be hospitalized. Frei said that unlike the third wave, the second wave had a stronger impact on those between the ages of 60 and 70.
The Kiskunhalas hospital has developed its own machine to handle patients undergoing severe immune responses to the virus. Frei explains that by filtering the surplus of cytokine molecules out of the body, the machine has worked to effectively reduce the number of deaths at the intensive care unit.
FactThe immune system produces cytokine molecules, which signal the body’s cells to react to a virus. In some individuals, the coronavirus can cause an immune response that is much stronger than what is necessary, known as a cytokine storm. This is the major cause of death in Covid-19 patients, as it can lead to irreversible tissue damage.
In order to handle the sudden overwhelming number of infections, the epidemic center in Debrecen has opened its newest building at the University of Debrecen’s clinical center.
The Debrecen University Clinical Center has increased its screening regulations, as significantly more people are arriving with symptoms of the virus. It is prioritizing tests for those suspected of having Covid and sending them to the Kenéz hospital if the virus’ presence is confirmed.
At the Hungarian Army Medical Center, an operating room and a patient monitoring room have both been converted to Covid intensive units.
According to Magyar Hang, the medical center now more frequently faces situations where someone’s ventilator must be turned off to help someone else, who may have a higher chance of survival.
Since these hospitals are operating at or above their full capacity, as soon as someone dies or heals from the virus, another patient immediately takes their place.
In fact, 70–80-year-old people with other serious illnesses are often no longer sent to ICUs, since those units are overwhelmed with Covid patients.
Semmelweis Rector: Most Deaths Not Even In Care Units
Dr. Béla Merkely, rector of Semmelweis University, said in December that Hungary’s healthcare system could not handle more patients in severe condition than it did then.
Now that there are even more people under treatment, Merkely says that “these patients do not even reach the point where they can receive the highest level of treatment. We have heard that there are people with, for example leukemia, who’s immune system has severely deteriorated, but cannot receive help.”
According to Merkely, most deaths do not even happen at intensive care units, but the operative board has not shared details regarding this.
Merkely told Portfolio.hu that the inoculation of healthcare workers has given Hungary’s healthcare a much greater capacity to handle the virus.
Despite the aggressive nature of the British mutation of COVID-19 spreading quickly and causing significantly more infections, healthcare workers – according to my calculations – can handle 20-25 percent more of a burden.”
This is a significant benefit to Hungary’s healthcare system, which, already understaffed, lost 4,000 essential workers after the government required those working in public healthcare to sign a mandatory contract of stricter working conditions, lower wages, and extra shifts.
Depression Widespread Among Hungary’s Healthcare Workers
Telex spoke to a doctor in charge of a Covid department, who said that country-wide healthcare workers in such departments have become depressed.
The individual, who chose to remain anonymous, said that the pandemic is having a terrible impact on doctors’ and nurses’ mental health.
Many of us are depressed. And this isn’t self-diagnosed depression, but tested and medically confirmed mental illness. We expected this third wave to come earlier, after Christmas, beginning of the year, but it did not come then. After that everyone felt slightly better, that this whole thing would come to an end. But this was not the case.”
The doctor said that significantly more people aged between 30, 40, and 50 are showing up with no previous cases of illness that would indicate poor health. Symptoms have changed as well, since previously people would lose their smell and taste, but are now more susceptible to choking, dry cough, and lung infection.
Toxicology Expert Says Weight is a Significant Factor
Dr. Gábor Zacher, Chief Medical Officer of the toxicology Department in the Péterfy Sándor Utca Hospital, told 168.hu that in his more than 30 years of experience in Hungary’s healthcare field, he has not seen anything like this.
Every day Zacher needs to tell multiple patients that they will be put on ventilators, from which there is a possibility that they will not wake up. Informing loved ones about their relatives’ deaths is brutally difficult as well, he said, but must now be done more frequently.
Zacher stated that weight is an especially significant factor in impacting those with a chronic illness and the elderly.
Obesity is a serious risk-factor. I am seeing with my own eyes, that 50-year-old, overweight, diabetic people with high blood pressure will almost certainly, if they catch Covid, have significant difficulty breathing, end up on ventilators, and die.”
For this reason, Zacher urges everyone to take on healthy eating and living habits as soon as possible, and to get vaccinated with whichever vaccine they can.
Gov’t: health care prepared, capacities available
In his most recent press conference, Minister of the Prime Minister’s Office Gergely Gulyás told hvg.hu that there are 13,244 beds and 1,918 ventilators available in hospitals. He did not specify in which locations these beds and ventilators are available.
The minister said that according to current projections, the number of hospitalized people could grow to above 10 thousand. He added that despite this, everything is in order, and hospital capacities can be expanded, with personal healthcare providers on standby if necessary.
By the end of next week, the number of people hospitalized because of the coronavirus could increase to more than 15 thousand, and there may likely be more than 1 thousand people on ventilators.
Featured photo illustration by Zoltán Balogh/MTI