Poor infection control and doctor apathy to blame for high number of COVID infections among healthcare workers in Victoria, head of Federal infection control committee says

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Given the blame heaped on the aged care sector for driving coronavirus infections in the state’s hospitals, new comments by the Chair of the Infection Control Expert Group, suggest doctors also contributed to the spread of the virus.

Medical groups have maintained inadequate guidelines on the use of PPE led to 3,500 healthcare workers in Victoria testing positive to the disease.

But Professor Lyn Gilbert, a clinical professor in immunology and infectious diseases, has told The Australian that poor infection control practices within public hospitals and doctors’ apathy for the high rate of COVID-19 cases in healthcare workers are the real culprit.

Of the workers who tested positive, 2,602 of those infections were acquired in the workplace, according to the Department of Health.

“This committee consists of some of the most experienced experts in infection control and infectious disease in the country,” she said.

“Some people who have most strongly criticised us have been doctors who until recently had little interest in routine infection control designed to protect patients. They are quite rightly concerned when they feel themselves to be at risk, but a lot of people who’ve never been experts have suddenly become experts.”

“Even if the guidance had been wrong, there are lots of reasons why healthcare workers have become infected not related to the guidance … Unfortunately, there’s been an attitude amongst hospital administrators, in the past, that infection control is something that can be managed by appointing a few infection control professionals. But they don’t put a lot of effort in to actually making sure that healthcare workers observe infection control measures.”

Doctors say the current infection control guidelines – which only recommend the use of a surgical mask in the routine care of patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, and that a P2 or N95 respirator can be worn where there are high numbers of suspected or confirmed COVID-19 patients – ignore that aerosol transmission is a major mode of spread of COVID-19.

However, Professor Gilbert said she considered aerosol transmission to be “a small part” of the spread of disease.

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