The NHS has been urged to rethink safety for thousands of frontline staff after new research suggested that Covid patients’ coughing is putting them at far greater risk of catching the virus than previously thought.
The study found that coughing generated at least 10 times more infectious “aerosol” particles than speaking or breathing – which could explain why so many NHS staff have fallen ill during the pandemic.
The research has led to fresh demands that anyone caring for someone with Covid-19, or suspected Covid-19, should be provided with the most protective equipment – including FFP3 respirator masks – and that hospital ventilation should be improved.
Health workers are up to four times more likely to contract coronavirus than the general population, with infection rates among those on general hospital wards approximately double those of intensive care unit (ICU) staff – who do have access to the most protective PPE.
This access to higher-level PPE was based on the assumption thatICU wards are more dangerous because treatments such as continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP), used to support patients’ breathing, generated large amounts of aerosols – which linger in the air and can be breathed into the lungs.
Staff working in other hospital areas, GP surgeries and care homes are issued with looser-fitting surgical masks, which afford little protection against these tiny particles, but block larger virus-carrying droplets.
The new research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, turns these assumptions on their head.
The research may also boost efforts to force a public inquiry into Covid-19 deaths among NHS staff and care workers. In December, Doctors’ Association UK (DAUK), which represents frontline medics, escalated its threat of judicial review against the government. “Inquiries must be initiated to investigate any factors that may have led to healthcare workers’ deaths,” a spokesperson said.
“We feel that there would be fewer infections among healthcare workers, and fewer deaths, if people had proper masks,” said Dr Katie Sanderson, a junior doctor and committee member of DAUK. “Acute medical wards and A&E, which is where most Covid patients are being cared for, have much lower standards of ventilation than intensive care units, and generally people are coughing all the time.
“This issue affects GPs as well, because most GP commissioners have refused to let GPs have access to proper masks.”
Read the article in full here: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/03/covid-coughing-study-suggests-nhs-staff-at-far-greater-risk-than-thought