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Bed occupancy in the ICU is a major constraint to in-patient care during COVID-19 pandemic. Diagnoses of acute respiratory infection (ARI) by general practitioners have not previously been investigated as an early warning indicator of ICU occupancy. A population-based central health care system registry in the autonomous community of Catalonia, Spain, was used to analyze all diagnoses of ARI related to COVID-19 established by general practitioners and the number of occupied ICU beds in all hospitals from Catalonia between March 26, 2020 and January 20, 2021. The primary outcome was the cross-correlation between the series of COVID-19-related ARI cases and ICU bed occupancy taking into account the effect of bank holidays and weekends. Recalculations were later implemented until March 27, 2022. Weekly average incidence of ARI diagnoses increased from 252.7 per 100,000 in August, 2020 to 496.5 in October, 2020 (294.2 in November, 2020), while the average number of ICU beds occupied by COVID-19-infected patients rose from 1.7 per 100,000 to 3.5 in the same period (6.9 in November, 2020). The incidence of ARI detected in the primary care setting anticipated hospital occupancy of ICUs, with a maximum correlation of 17.3 days in advance (95% confidence interval 15.9 to 18.9). COVID-19-related ARI cases may be a novel warning sign of ICU occupancy with a delay of over two weeks, a latency window period for establishing restrictions on social contacts and mobility to mitigate the propagation of COVID-19. Monitoring ARI cases would enable immediate adoption of measures to prevent ICU saturation in future waves.


Montserrat Guillen, Ignasi Bardes Robles, Ester Bordera Cabrera, Xénia Acebes Roldán, Catalina Bolancé, Daniel Jorba, David Moriña. Acute respiratory infection rates in primary care anticipate ICU bed occupancy during COVID-19 waves. PloS one. 2022;17(5):e0267428

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PMID: 35507567

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