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Covid-19 risk three times higher among healthcare workers even with PPE

Frontline healthcare staff have a three-fold higher risk of Covid-19 infection even with adequate PPE, a study using data from a symptom tracker app has found.

Researchers from Kings College London also found that healthcare workers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds were more likely to test positive.

The analysis published in The Lancet Public Health looked at more than two million individuals using the COVID Symptom Tracker App as well as almost 100,000 front line healthcare workers in the UK and US.

They found a prevalence of 2,747 confirmed Covid-19 cases per 100,000 healthcare staff compared with 242 cases per 100,000 people in the general population.

An adjustment taking into account that healthcare workers are more likely to be tested showed they still had three times higher risk of a Covid-19 diagnosis.

Those treating patients face to face were also more likely to report at least one symptom associated with Covid-19 infection, most commonly fatigue, loss of smell or taste or hoarse voice.

BAME health-care workers appeared to be at particularly high risk with at least a fivefold increased chance of infection compared with the white general community.

Study leader Professor Sebastien Ourselin, head of the school of biomedical engineering at King’s College London, said the findings had ‘tremendous impact’ for healthcare workers.

‘The data is clear in revealing that there is still an elevated risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection despite availability of PPE,’ he said.

It highlights the importance of ensuring correct application and removal of PPE and avoiding reuse, the researchers added.

Dr Claire Steves, lead clinical researcher from King’s College London said masks and social distancing masks and social distancing needed to be ‘reinforced and sustained throughout the health service’.

‘Additional protective strategies are equally as important, such as implementing social distancing among healthcare staff. Stricter protocols for socialising among healthcare staff also need to be considered,’ she added.

Professor Azeem Majeed, professor of primary care at Imperial College London said the results were in line with other evidence showing healthcare workers are at higher risk of infection with Covid-19.

‘For general practices, the study – and other studies from countries such as China – illustrates the importance of adequate PPE and training staff in using PPE correctly and in infection control measures.’

He added: ‘Much more work will be done face to face in primary care during the autumn and winter than in recent months.

‘Ensuring general practice staff will have adequate PPE and infection control policies is essential.’

The recommendations not to reuse PPE comes as Public Health England (PHE) recommends re-use of items including face masks for ‘urgent or emergency face-to-face contacts’, ‘when in short supply’.