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Infectious Diseases

Updated 13 March 2020

How this hospital ensured none of its staff contracted coronavirus - despite testing 1 300 suspected cases

Now that SA has confirmed cases of the new coronavirus, what about our healthcare workers treating these patients? A Hong Kong hospital may have the answer.

After the first confirmed cases of positive tests for the new coronavirus in South Africa, public interest is high and there is great concern about contracting the virus.

The government has put in place measures and processes including testing and treatment – but what about the healthcare professionals involved?

Coming into contact with patients who test positive for the virus put these practitioners at high risk of contracting the virus themselves.

But a hospital in Hong Kong may be setting the standard for the rest to follow, according to a study in the journal Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.

According to a news release, Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong had zero reported cases of healthcare workers contracting the Covid-19 virus. Additionally, no hospital-acquired infections were identified after the first six weeks of the outbreak.

This was despite testing 1 275 suspected cases of the new coronavirus, as well as treating 42 active confirmed cases of Covid-19.

Out of 413 healthcare workers who treated confirmed cases, 11 had unprotected exposure and were quarantined for 14 days. None of the 11 became ill.

Infection control measures

"Appropriate hospital infection control measures can prevent healthcare-associated transmission of the coronavirus," study authors said.

"Vigilance in hand-hygiene practice, wearing of surgical masks in the hospital, and appropriate use of personal protective equipment in patient care, especially when performing aerosol-generating procedures, are the key infection control measures to prevent hospital transmission of the virus."

The researchers also went a step further by taking air samples from near the mouth of a patient with a moderate case of the virus.

"The descriptive study employed unique environmental and air samples with the results suggesting that environmental transmission may play less of a role than person to person transmission in disease propagation," said Gonzalo Bearman, MD, professor of medicine and chair of the Division of Infectious Disease at Virginia Commonwealth University, who reviewed but was not involved in the study.

Widened screening criteria

When reports emerged of the cases from China, infection control measures were stepped up at Hong Kong's 43 public hospitals. 

Hospitals widened screening criteria, and when the screening process identified a positive case of the virus, the patient was immediately isolated in an airborne infection isolation room, according to the release.

Or, in a few cases, in a ward where there was at least a metre of space between patients.

The research showed that:

  • In each hospital, enhanced infection and control measures were put in place.
  • Staff forums on infection control were put in place.
  • Staff were trained on the use of personal protective equipment.
  • Staff had access to face-to-face education sessions.
  • Regular hand-hygiene compliance assessments were required.

Additionally, the release said hospitals increased the use of protective gear for use of staff who were performing aerosol generating procedures like endotracheal intubation or open suctioning for all patients, not just those with or at risk for Covid-19.

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Image credit: Getty Images