March 3, 2020
Nurses, doctors, and hospital and clinic staff will be regularly exposed to patients with high viral loads, increasing our personal risk immensely. As an ER doctor, I am certainly in the highest-risk category for contracting this disease, with hundreds of infected people likely to come through my department’s doors in the coming months. It’s admittedly given me pause. I tend to contract the flu on a yearly basis, despite getting the flu shot and practicing correct precautions around my patients. COVID-19 has a transmissibility rate that’s more than double that of most influenza viruses.
I have accepted that my risk of death, if I were to contract COVID-19, is five-fold that of the flu’s extremely low rate of 0.06 percent. But according to China CDC, healthcare workers have a very sobering 15 percent risk of becoming seriously ill and hospitalized while caring for patients. Additionally, most patients sick enough to arrive at the ER will be elderly and frail, and will likely require intubation and breathing machines, a procedure in which my face, mouth, and eyes will be inches from theirs as I insert a breathing tube into their windpipe. It is the highest-risk procedure for contracting any respiratory virus.
Dr. Darragh O'Carroll is an ACEP member from Hawaii.
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