Literatus: The mystery of infected healthcare workers

Zosimo T. Literatus
·2 min read

IF WE must take notice, one of the great mysteries in this Covid-19 pandemic involves the infection of health workers in the Philippines. As early as last October, the number of health workers who became infected with the Sars-CoV-2 reached a landmark level of 10,000.

With all the expensive personal protective gear used today in hospitals, how come health care workers continue to be infected with the coronavirus? If the health workers are wearing impregnable protective clothing, how can they be infected? A great technological mystery it is.

However, such a mystery may not be mysterious at all. If we look at the data, most health workers who became infected are working in hospitals with no separate ventilation or air conditioning system for areas dedicated to Covid-19 cases. Either the quarantine or treatment areas are not isolated in different buildings with separate ventilation systems, or in hospitals that cannot afford a ventilation system that is separate from that in non-Covid-19 rooms. Many hospitals that cater to Covid-19 cases also did not refurbish their air conditioning systems to isolate the ventilation exhaust of the isolation areas from the common ventilation system.

So how can they be infected? The answer is through the centralized ventilation system whether air conditioned or open air.

In a common ventilation system, the air circulating in the Covid-19 isolation areas eventually spill into the common hospital air environment. It could be through the air conditioning system. It could be through the opening and closing of doors. Regardless, the isolation air with coronavirus in its droplet composition eventually, through days and months, reaches the common air environment. Thus, even when the health care workers are in non-Covid-19 isolation areas or the physicians are in their quarters, the air they breathe contains the same Covid-19-containing droplets found in the isolation area.

This means that Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus has become a hospital-borne infection. These cases had been observed in the United Kingdom, which was as high as 25 percent in hospital outbreaks, where the new Sars-CoV-2 strains had been reported first. Perhaps this explains the mutation into the new strain.

That is the bad news. Unless hospitals that cater to cases of Covid-19 infection use a separate building for isolating these cases and health care workers allowed to remove their personal protective clothing outside this facility, health care workers will continue to be infected.

The good news is hospital administrators can do something about this. They should.