Routinely testing patients for COVID-19 before major surgery could save lives but it is not being consistently undertaken, a global study has found.
The study, by international researchers including from the University of Western Australia, has linked the use of a nasal swab test for asymptomatic patients to a lower rate of post-operative respiratory complications.
Surgeons were able to both identify the presence of the virus in asymptomatic patients and to prevent cross-infection to other elective surgery patients.
Avoiding the severe risk of COVID-19 complications after surgery could save lives, the researchers said.
The findings from global research group COVIDSurg Collaborative are published in the British Journal of Surgery.
UWA and Fiona Stanley Hospital surgery professor Toby Richards said just one in four patients were screened for infection, with major variations between nations.
"This illustrates the need for global expansion and standardisation of swab testing worldwide," he said.
"Preoperative swab testing should not be considered in isolation but as part of a broader plan to minimise risks for patients, including setting up COVID-19 free surgical pathways in all hospitals performing elective surgery."
The collaborative, featuring researchers from more than 130 countries, has launched a dedicated toolkit to help hospitals around the world restart elective surgery.
More than 28 million procedures were postponed in the first phase of the global pandemic, the group said.
The toolkit summarises published international data to support safe surgical practice and guide effective recovery plans.
Lead researcher Jess Vo from Fiona Stanley Hospital said the average person underwent three to four operations during their lifetime.
"Surgery remains the cure for most cancers and underpins the treatment of many non-infectious diseases," Dr Vo said.
"Our new toolkit will help everyone involved in surgical planning over the next 5 years, including providers, healthcare leaders, patients, governments, financiers and industry."