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Less incidence of COVID-19 carriers among health staff

17 May 2021

A new study titled’ Identification of asymptomatic carriers of SARS-COv2 among healthcare workers at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital’ has found that there is less incidence of asymptomatic carriers among healthcare staff within hospital settings. 

According to the study, this could be due to strict adherence to infection control measures such as hand washing, social distancing, using protective gear, and universal masking protocol adopted by the hospital early in the pandemic. 

One among the many projects of the COVID-19 Research Programme of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation, this one by Dr Amal al Shibli from Sultan Qaboos University Hospital explores carries of the COVID-19 virus in a hospital workspace.

Since the COVID-19 infection ranges from being asymptomatic to multi-organ failure, healthcare workers managing patients with COVID-19 have increased risk of infection through transmission, and asymptomatic healthcare workers can transmit the infection to patients. 

Dr Amal and her team conducted a prospective non-randomised controlled study on 583 healthcare workers at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital to identify those with asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. The project also aimed to describe the demographic, clinical and social features associated with asymptomatic status.

For this project, participants were recruited from multiple areas with different exposure risk to COVID-19. The healthcare workers filled a questionnaire that collected demographic, clinical and social data. They were then screened using combined nasopharyngeal and throat swabs which were tested for SARS-COV2 by real-time polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR).

According to Dr Amal the study showed that 4.1 per cent of healthcare workers at Sultan Qaboos University Hospital had asymptomatic COVID-19 infection. Only 30 per cent of those workers were involved directly in the care of COVID-19 patients. 

The results revealed that only 25 per cent of the study participants later showed very simple symptoms within 14 days from the date of collection of the swab sample.

Dr Amal suggested that segregating physical areas and designated COVID-19 teams who rarely interact with non-COVID-19 teams might be another reason for the study’s low incidence.

She said community infection may play an important role in spreading the virus since the research showed that the prevalence was more among staff who had no direct contact with COVID-19 patients. Therefore, adherence to infection control measures is not sufficient. Continuous monitoring, surveillance and focus on these measures are vital in order to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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