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Infectious Diseases

Updated 18 May 2020

New study of healthcare workers could identify who’s most at risk for coronavirus

Healthcare workers are at high risk of contracting Covid-19. A group of researchers did a clinical study of NHS workers in the UK to determine why some people are more at risk than others.

In South Africa, we’ve seen the headlines about the deaths of nurses from Covid-19. As healthcare workers are exposed to SARS-Cov-2 on a daily basis, it makes sense that they are more at risk for Covid-19 infection.

But it still seems that some people are more at risk of illness than others. This led a group of researchers funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) to set up a clinical study of NHS healthcare workers in the United Kingdom to determine which frontline workers are most at risk.

According to a news release, this study will continue to collect samples from several frontline healthcare workers (doctors, nurses, administrators and others) who are not showing any symptoms of the virus

The researchers collected samples of blood, saliva and nasal swabs from workers in three London hospitals to determine who were most likely to be exposed early on in the pandemic. The researchers also wanted to determine whether anyone who was constantly exposed to the virus developed immunity, and if there were any exposure hotspots inside the hospitals.

Study extended to Cape Town and Sydney

Not only will the research determine which people are more likely to contract Covid-19, but the research can also help enhance ways of testing for the virus, and create a sample library that can be utilised for vaccines or drug development, according to the news report.

The study will also help determine whether BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnicities) healthcare workers are more at risk of severe Covid-19 than Caucasian healthcare workers.

The study has been extended from the UK to Cape Town and Sydney to help answer other questions more related to the Southern Hemisphere (such as climate conditions etc).

Dr Thomas Treibel, BHF Intermediate Research Fellow at Bart Health and University College Hospital London, stated: "Covid-19 is devastating families and severely disrupting our way of life right across the world. There is a lot we don't know about how the virus works, and so we have acted with speed to set up this clinical study in response to the pandemic.

"Looking at samples from 1 000 frontline staff who are exposed to the virus will be crucial in understanding why some people become hospitalised with Covid-19, while others develop mild symptoms. By collaborating with the best minds and scientific labs in the UK and beyond, we will be able to get quick answers on how the virus works, including the role genetics plays and the immune response to Covid-19. Answering these questions will enable us to design much-needed treatments before a second wave occurs."

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