‘Screening healthcare workers can warn for future viruses’

‘Screening healthcare workers can warn for future viruses’
File Pic: Aman Farooq/GK

Covid-19 infections in healthcare workers during the first wave of the pandemic provided an accurate sample of the general population, say researchers suggesting that data from healthcare workers could be used to estimate the severity of future viruses more quickly.

Healthcare workers in Ireland made up 31.6 per cent of all test-confirmed infections while only representing three per cent of the population.

However, researchers from RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences in collaboration with IBM Research, found that the healthcare worker data closely related to that of the entire population after using software to create a more accurate picture of how widespread the disease was. This suggests that governments could use data from only healthcare workers to inform decisions on whether to implement restrictions, wide-scale testing and contact tracing for future viruses, revealed in the research published in the PLOS ONE journal.

"Setting up wide-scale testing systems for healthcare workers is much easier than setting up a similar programme for everyone since the infrastructure for testing for diseases is always in place in healthcare settings," said Dan Wu, lecturer in the RCSI Department of Chemistry.

"A screening programme that tested all healthcare workers would have the additional benefit of catching asymptomatic spread of the disease since all healthcare workers would be tested. If governments could catch highly infectious diseases and implement countermeasures early, this could possibly prevent new viruses from erupting into another epidemic/pandemic," Wu added.

The team analysed the infection data from healthcare workers and the progression of the first wave of the Covid-19 outbreak using the reported daily infection numbers in Ireland. Using similar data in four other countries (Germany, the UK, South Korea and Iceland), computer models showed how the disease progressed in different countries related to their approach to testing, tracing and lockdown restrictions.

The research noted that very few nations were able to set up effective systems that tested the entire population, carried out contact tracing and quarantined those infected with Covid-19.

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