Coronavirus in Mumbai: Survey says 23% healthcare workers contracted COVID-19 through their kin or close contacts

They are the real foot soldiers in our battle against the Coronavirus pandemic. At times, many of them even face the wrath of irate patients and relatives but they carry on with their duty relentlessly. However, the sero survey conducted by the Eyebetes Foundation has thrown up some shocking revelations. As per the survey, nearly 23 per cent of healthcare workers (HCWs) have contracted COVID-19 infection through their family members or close contacts.

The study also showed that one in a dozen HCWs (8.33 per cent) working in COVID hospitals had a history of RT-PCR positive infection compared to about 1 in 17 (5.8 per cent) HCWs who had never worked in a COVID hospital. Doctors said the study revealed that HCWs not only contract the infection at hospitals but mostly in their homes.

In June Eyebetes Foundation conducted a survey on 801 HCWs from COVID and non-COVID hospitals which included Sir Jamshedji Jeejeebhoy, Gokuldas Tejpal and St George Hospital. Sixty-two HCWs who had a past Covid-19 infection were confirmed by the RT-PCR. “Of the 62 HCWs, 14 contracted the infection from their family members,” said Dr Nishant Kumar founder and trustee of Eyebetes Foundation. “It is the retrospective study which showed that every household member of HCW needs to ensure that they maintain social distance, wear a mask and wash their hands.” There is a risk of infected family members passing the infection to healthcare workers who in turn could risk patients in the hospitals.

Dr Kumar said that having exposure to someone in the neighbourhood who is COVID positive or living in the containment or hotspot area was not significantly associated with a higher rate of PCR positive COVID infection in healthcare workers. This is reassuring as many of our ancillary workers live in hotspots. The authors of the study have also submitted this for publication in the International Journal of Public Health.

Dr Amit Mutha, JJ Hospital, lead author of the study said the rate of PCR positive COVID infection was less than 10 per cent (less than the globally reported figures). Moreover, this data must be considered with caution as HCWs who are elderly or had significant uncontrolled medical conditions like diabetes, cardiac disease and active cancer were exempted from working during the pandemic. Hence, only those HCWs with the mild disease would have been working in hospitals. Other studies have shown that diabetics and high-risk individuals like those with active cancer treatment have a higher mortality rate with COVID and must be protected during the pandemic. “Our data is reassuring for doctors, nurses and healthcare workers as those with controlled and mild diabetes and cardiac disease were not at an increased risk of COVID infection. But all HCWs working in hospitals during the pandemic must take all the precautions to prevent an infection,” he said.

Dr Kumar and Dr Shibal Bhartiya investigators of the study said that the greatest risk of infection is not in the hospital where PPE kits are worn and COVID infection protocols are strictly followed. HCWs are at risk from infected members of their household. “Education and awareness regarding the use of masks and social distancing is a must for all HCWs, particularly ancillary workers who do not have the level of education and access to protocols like doctors and nurses,” said Dr Kumar.

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