Muscat: Only one in four healthcare workers who tested positive for COVID-19 displayed symptoms for the virus, according to findings by Omani researcher Dr Amal Al Shibli at Sultan Qaboos University.
Al Shibli and her team conducted a study on 583 healthcare workers at SQU Hospital to identify the causes behind asymptomatic infection of the disease, by collecting the social, demographic, and clinical backgrounds of those who did not display any symptoms, but still tested positive.
“Since the COVID-19 infection symptoms range from asymptomatic to multi-organ failure, healthcare workers managing patients with COVID-19 have increased risks of infection through transmission,” she said. “Asymptomatic staff might also transmit the infection to other patients.”
The project was organised under the COVID-19 Research Programme of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation. Within this project, the participants were recruited from multiple areas that had different levels of exposure risk to COVID-19.
The healthcare workers filled in a questionnaire which contains the demographic, clinical, and social data, and were then screened using combined nasopharyngeal and throat swabs to test them for COVID-19 using RT-PCR tests.
The study showed that 4.1 per cent of healthcare workers at the hospital had asymptomatic COVID-19. 30 per cent of those workers were involved in direct COVID-19 patient care, and only 25 per cent of the study participants showed symptoms of the disease in a two-week span after their tests were conducted.
“The results of the study have shown a lesser incidence of asymptomatic carriers, perhaps due to the strict adherence to infection control measures such as hand washing, social distancing, gloves, gowns, and universal masking protocol adopted by the hospital early during the pandemic,” said Dr Amal Al Shibli.
“Segregated physical areas and designated COVID-19 teams who rarely interact with the non-COVID-19 teams might be another reason for the study’s low incidence,” she added.
“Community infection may play an important role in spreading the virus, since the research showed that the prevalence was more among staff who had no direct contact with COVID-19 patients.
“Therefore, adherence to infection control measures is not sufficient,” added Al Shibli. “Continuous monitoring, surveillance, and focus on these measures are vital in order to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.”