There is a worrying trend in new coronavirus cases with Australian healthcare workers featuring more prominently among those testing positive for the virus.
A Queensland nurse who had been working in the infectious diseases unit at the Princess Alexandra Hospital in Brisbane was tested after she began feeling unwell. She returned a positive result for the virus on Monday.
The nurse stayed home when her symptoms emerged, notified her bosses immediately and was now resting in isolation as six colleagues who came in close contact with her were also told to self-isolate for 14 days.
The case was the latest in those involving frontline workers who have been struck down by the virus, with Victoria’s Chief Health Officer revealing about 10 per cent of the state’s cases were people working in healthcare.
Australian healthcare workers to get 11 million masks
Consistent vigilance will be required if Australia is to avoid tracking the same path as Italy where more than 60 doctors have died from the disease, according to Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) president Dr Harry Nespolon.
“Primary care has never been more important and it’s vital that we do all we can to keep general practice workers safe,” Dr Nespolon told Yahoo News Australia.
He said there had continued to be shortages in protective protection equipment (PPE) for GPs, which was a major factor in keeping doctors and their patients protected from the virus.
Federal health minister Greg Hunt on Wednesday announced 11 million masks would be sent to healthcare workers on the front lines of the pandemic.
Workers are at ‘inevitable’ risk of virus
Dr Chris Zappala, the Australian Medical Association vice-president, said while health care workers were inevitably at risk of contracting COVID-19, minimal cases had so far been confirmed in Australia.
“We definitely hope this is not a trend, because unfortunately healthcare workers are at risk if they’re dealing with COVID-19 infected patients, but we’ve only had very isolated cases so far,” Dr Zappala told Yahoo News Australia.
“We definitely have seen high rates of healthcare worker infections overseas, but that is not what we’re seeing in Australia at this stage. Hopefully it’s not a trend and we can keep pushing this curve down.”
Doctors without PPE not compelled to treat high-risk patients
Dr Zappala urged healthcare workers to never engage in any work they were not comfortable doing, like in cases where they may not have access to appropriate PPE.
“If you don’t have the right PPE, do not feel compelled to do something that you feel is unsafe,” he said.
“Doctors are quite within their rights to say, ‘I’m not equipped at the moment to help you on this, but I will direct you to where you can get help’.”
The same message was expressed by Dr Nespolon who encouraged GPs to refer patients to an alternate facility if they did not have access to protective gear.
“While we understand that there is a worldwide shortage of PPE, the RACGP will continue to argue that if GPs do not feel safe to care for at-risk patients they should direct them to a facility where the medical staff and the patient can be safely managed,” he said.
Both groups stressed the importance of basic infection control principles that should be considered by healthcare workers including showering and changing clothes before returning home.
They should also consider washing their work attire separately and keeping their work items in a separate spot inside the home.
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