NHK has learned that a record number of COVID-19 patients have been placed on ECMO heart-lung machines in Japan.
The ECMO system helps patients who are struggling to breathe by drawing blood from the body and infusing it with oxygen before sending it back.
Japan ECMOnet, an organization that compiles data about treatment for seriously ill COVID patients, says 117 people in the country were being treated with the machines as of Thursday.
That exceeds 67 in late May at the peak of the fourth wave of infections, and 60 logged in mid-January amid the third wave.
The average age of patients receiving ECMO treatment was 60 or older for most of the period until March. But that fell to 56 in May, and stood at 50 this month until Tuesday.
The number of patients younger than 40 being treated with the machines has been rapidly increasing especially after the spread of the Delta variant.
Takeda Shinhiro, the head of Japan ECMOnet, warns the Delta variant is not only highly contagious but people infected with it also tend to develop severe symptoms. He advises young people to take thorough anti-infection measures to protect themselves.