Most COVID-19 victims had a pre-existing heart condition called congestive heart failure, which is most common in older people, Charmaine Gauci has said.

The Superintendent of Public Health gave a breakdown of some of the health conditions of those who contracted the virus and died. 

"Most had congestive heart failure, respiratory symptoms and diabetes," she told Times of Malta's weekly Ask Charmaine, in response to a reader's question.

According to the European Centre of Disease Control, Malta has the highest COVID-19 death rate in the EU per 100,000 people over the last 14 days. Most of the victims have been older people and around a quarter have been residents of homes for the elderly. 

“Elderly people are affected due to their medical conditions," she said. "We give them the treatment that we can but it is a tragedy every day." She appealed to everyone to continue to take measures to protect those vulnerable to the virus, which has led to the deaths of 35 people in Malta.

Some families of COVID-19 victims have criticised the use of the term 'underlying health condition', arguing that it belittles the deadly virus and lessens the responsibility of those tasked with caring for them.   

Gauci said that age was "an underlying situation that makes people more vulnerable to complications from COVID".

How are patients being treated?

Gauci said that seven people are currently receiving treatment in Mater Dei's intensive care unit. Some are being helped to breathe with the aid of a ventilator. 

Additionally Gauci said that Malta had acquired the drug Remdesivir, a broad-spectrum antiviral medication, through EU procurement, which has benefitted coronavirus patients in Malta. 

“We follow all treatments and ongoing clinical trials, a number of which we have tried ourselves,” she said. “Remdisiver has proven to be helpful with COVID, so for those who are clinically eligible and on the advice of the clinician we are providing patients with this treatment.”

On the care of elderly coronavirus patients in nursing homes, Gauci said that these are visited daily by a consultant geriartrician who looks for symptoms and offers ongoing support. 

“We do a medical review daily where patients are monitored and supported. When it is required, they are transferred to hospital,” she said.

When will a vaccine be available?

Noting that seasonal influenza vaccines would be available on October 11, the Superintendent said that health authorities were doing all they can to prevent the double burden of COVID-19 and influenza from colliding. 

She said Malta was involved in and monitoring clinical trials for a COVID-19 vaccine. Results had thus far been positive and she hoped that a working vaccine would be publicly available soon. 

Replying to a question about mandatory vaccination, Gauci said that flu vaccines were not obligatory, however it was important for the vulnerable, including the elderly, young children and sufferers of chronic illnesses to get it if possible. 

“We firmly believe in this aspect that we need to rely on the responsibility of people who understand the risks and are going for it, however I strongly appeal for vulnerable people to take the influenza vaccine,” she said. 

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