As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads, even doctors, nurses and paramedics virus are taking ill. Earlier this week, a Karnataka doctor who treated a coronavirus-infected person who died in Kalaburagi tested positive.
The risk to doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers is great in an epidemic like this. If protecting patients is difficult, so is protecting healthcare workers, including doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and orderlies who clean the rooms between patients.
Given the testing lags and the proportion of infected people who are asymptomatic, it’s too soon to know the rate of infection among caregivers. But then the infection is everywhere in a hospital. “Although you wear protective gear and do the best you can, you cannot control it,” said Dr K K Aggarwal, cardiologist and president of the Heart Care Foundation of India.
Doctors who are dealing closely with Covid-19 patients are clearly a worried lot. According to one study, 47 per cent of virus transmission occurs at hospitals. In China 3.3 per cent of the doctors treating coronavirus patients got infected. But in Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, because of successful strategies, not one doctor was infected.
Dr Aggarwal says patient precautions help make it easier for medics. “Patients visiting hospitals should declare whether they have a cold or cough. Doctors should maintain a 3 ft distance from patients or take care not to face them directly. Contaminated areas in hospitals should be cleaned with bleaching powder three times a day.
“A situation such as the one in which 80 doctors had to quarantine themselves following the visit of one patient to a hospital would not have happened had the guidelines had been followed.”
According to Dr H. S. Chabbra, medical director, Medicine Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, the current stage of the coronavirus epidemic is a critical one, where community transmission can happen. And as members of the community, doctors are susceptible to infection if standard operating procedures are not followed. Protective gear such as gloves, masks and caps are a must while treating an infectious disease.
Apart from using personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitizers, Dr. Chhabra underlines one other important task that doctors have to perform in the present context: prevent misinformation from being transmitted on social media and make scientific insights available to the public so that people do not panic and throng hospitals.
“Such a situation will complicate an already tricky situation,” he warns.
Some doctors feel that mild-to-moderate cases should be managed at home, not in hospitals. In ICUs, healthcare providers have extended exposure to people who have contracted the virus. They know in advance the risk they face. But outside of these places, proper precautions can be taken to prevent the virus from spreading.
Dr Hari Prasad, president of the Apollo Group of Hospitals, details the steps being taken by his institution.
“Our hospital screens patients and visitors at entry. Those with symptoms are given a mask and a hand rub before reaching a doctor. This minimises the risk to healthcare personnel and also other patients and visitors. Suspect patients are segregated and asked to gather in separate areas outside the main hospital, thus minimising risk of cross infection,” says Dr Hari Prasad.
Commenting that healthcare workers are human beings too and the fear of infection is always at the back of their minds, he asserts that despite this they understand their responsibilities in such epidemics.
“It is their commitment to the profession and an emotional connect with their patients that keeps them going,” he adds....