Coronavirus: Medical scholars suggest pulse oximeters instead of temperature as COVID-19 indicator in older adults

By: |
May 05, 2021 5:24 PM

This commentary has been published in Frontiers in Medicine by Catherine Van Son and Deborah Eti of Washington State University’s College of Nursing.

It is notable that the effectiveness of a pulse oximeter as a COVID-19 indicator has recently been a subject of debates.

Coronavirus in older adults: Ever since the pandemic first struck early last year, fever is being used as a key indicator of checking if someone potentially has COVID-19. A testament to this is the fact that at all public places like metro stations, offices and tourist attractions, thermal screening measures are at place, and people have to go through it first before being allowed to enter. However, now, medical experts have proposed that to check whether older adults have infections, pulse oximeters are more useful than taking temperature, according to a report in IE. This commentary has been published in Frontiers in Medicine by Catherine Van Son and Deborah Eti of Washington State University’s College of Nursing.

It is notable that the effectiveness of a pulse oximeter as a COVID-19 indicator has recently been a subject of debates. Global health agency World Health Organisation (WHO) had in January enlisted pulse oximeters as devices which could be used to identify patients who required medical assistance due to low levels of oxygen. But, a month later, US FDA raised questions about the accuracy of pulse oximeters in some circumstances, warning that the reading by these devices could be impacted by factors like skin pigmentation, thickness of skin, temperature as well as poor circulation.

A number of studies showing that skin pigmentation affected the accuracy of pulse oximeter readings were also cited by the US CDC to warn healthcare professionals about such readings in its coronavirus guidance in February.

However, the new paper has said that specifically for older adults, oximeters should be preferred to checking their temperature. In the paper, the scholars said that as per the CDC’s standard definition, fever is at 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, but since the baseline temperature is lower in older adults, their fever might be overlooked. It also said that over 30% of seriously infected older adults show mild or no fever.

It also highlighted how some other signs of COVID-19, like fatigue, loss of smell or taste as well as body aches, might be brushed aside in such individuals as signs of ageing rather than of the virus. Apart from that, it also made a point that several patients having oxygen saturation below 90% do not have any visible signs of low oxygen, and this can lead to adverse outcomes.

Thus, the two scholars made a case for low-cost, portable pulse oximeters to be widely used as indicators because they are able to detect any changes in saturation levels without there being any other indication of the infection.

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