The ICU death rate for COVID-19 has fallen dramatically since March, study finds

ICU in India
(Image credit: Xavier Galiana/AFP/Getty Images)

If you are sick enough with COVID-19 to be admitted to a hospital intensive care unit, your chances of survival are much better today than they were a few months ago, researchers report in the journal Anaesthesia. The British study analyzed all published research from around the world on COVID-19 ICU deaths among adults, and it found the fatality rate dropped from 60 percent of ICU patients at the end of March to 40 percent in May, a 33 percent drop. The ICU death rate was more or less constant across all continents.

"As we learn more about this virus and its effect on the critically ill, we become better at treating it and its complications," Dr. Eric Cioe Pena, director of global health at Northwell Health, tells ABC News. "The global sum of knowledge brought to bear on this problem is what has helped to reduce mortality." Doctors now have more effective tools, including proven steroids and anti-viral drugs, and they have a better understanding of the new coronavirus and how it affects the body. Also, "we are more knowledgeable about ventilator management in these patients," said Dr. Amesh Adalja at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security.

While the ICU death rate has fallen across national boundaries, different countries have employed divergent strategies to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, and overall deaths are rising in countries that have failed to contain the disease. The virus is "like a big giant forest fire that's looking for human lives to burn," University of Minnesota infectious disease reacher Michael Osterholm tells Politico. If the treatment gains are not "coupled with good public health measures," Pena told ABC News, we will "erase any gains made over the last few months by simply overwhelming the ICUs that have just become better at treating COVID-19."

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Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.