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Infection control measures in Hong Kong have protected healthcare workers from COVID-19 coronavirus

Standard infection-control practices have been effective, including vigilant hand hygiene, wearing surgical masks and using protective equipment.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic has caused public health concerns around the globe, with world health officials urging frequent handwashing and social isolation as measures that could potentially mitigate its spread. Healthcare professionals who are on the front lines of treating the disease have relied on infection-control measures to protect themselves.

In Hong Kong, which is near the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, infection control has been working.

Research from Queen Mary Hospital in Hong Kong, led by Dr. Vincent C.C. Cheng of the Department of Microbiology, inventoried the infection-control measures enacted by the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, a governing body responsible for all 43 public hospitals in the city, representing about 90% of inpatient service. The inventory began immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak.

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The infection control measures appear to have the intended effect: While those hospitals dealt with 42 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, no hospital-acquired infections occurred among healthcare workers in Hong Kong's public hospitals in the six weeks studied.

The team began their calculations using data from December 31, 2019, which they consider "day one" of the outbreak. In total, 413 healthcare workers treated the 42 confirmed cases. Eleven of those workers had unprotected exposure and were quarantined for 14 days, but none had contracted the virus.

WHAT'S THE IMPACT?

Among the infection-control measures implemented were widening the screening criteria to include visits to mainland China hospitals and immediately isolating people with SARS-CoV-2 in airborne-infection isolation rooms. SARS-CoV-2 is the name of the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

While transmission within hospitals has so far been prevented, the number of cases in Hong Kong as a whole has increased; the number of locally contracted infections stood at one of 13 confirmed cases at day 32, but jumped to 27 of 29 confirmed cases between days 33 and 42. That's a jump from 7.7% to 93.1%.

But among those cases, 28 were tied to eight family clusters, and 11 were tied to a single family cluster.

The report concluded that standard infection-control practices have been effective and will continue to be so. Vigilant hand hygiene, wearing surgical masks in the hospital and using personal protective equipment during patient care, especially during procedures that generate aerosols, are the key measures that prevent transmission, researchers said.

THE LARGER TREND

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump announced the suspension of all travel from Europe to the U.S. for the next 30 days, with the exception of the U.K. He also said that emergency action would be taken to help individuals and small businesses financially hit by the coronavirus.

Experts say the U.S. is still in the beginning stages of the infection's spread, which is expected to run a course of about 10 weeks. A shortage of test kits has been hampering containment efforts, only made worse by an initial batch of defective kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That has left hospitals and labs without an adequate supply.

Production of kits is expected to increase, with Vice President Mike Pence promising four million new kits by the end of the week.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com