A significant proportion of worldwide cases of coronavirus have been related to occupational exposure. All health personnel should be alert to the risk of COVID-19 in a wide variety of occupations, not only HCWs, according to an editorial from Professor David Koh published in Occupational Medicine journal.
The editorial is free to view, it is written by Professor Koh who has served as a WHO consultant in occupational health in countries in the Asia-Pacific such as Vietnam, Myanmar, Indonesia and the Solomon Islands.
Professor Koh reports that the first documented occupational group found to be at risk involved employees working in the seafood and animal wholesale markets in Wuhan, where the virus originated. As time has progressed those working in healthcare have been put at risk when caring for those infected with the virus.
He highlights that data has indicated that staff in the tourism, retail and hospitality industry, transport and security workers and construction workers have also been effected. As reported in the media this includes crew members on board the Diamond Princess liner which was carrying an infected passenger.
Professor Koh highlights that at risk occupational groups can be protected by infection control practise and adhering to public health measures which include early detection, quarantine and isolation of cases.
Those working in at risk industries can face discrimination with reports that taxi drivers have refused to pick up medical staff, an ambulance driver was refused service by a food stall and a nurse was scolded for taking public transport. Professor Koh has indicated that occupational health practitioners need to ensure there is appropriate social and mental health support available for those at risk.
As recommended in the Coronavirus - update from Dr Dipti Patel from 31st January 2020, occupational health practitioners can access the following resources for updated information on COVID-19:
Travel Health Advice: https://travelhealthpro.org.uk/
Public Health Advice: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/wuhan-novel-coronavirus
World Health Organization: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/index.html
British Medical Journal resource centre: https://www.bmj.com/coronavirus
The Lancet coronavirus resource centre: https://www.thelancet.com/coronavirus
You can download the Department of Health and Social Care Coronavirus action plan here.
By Yvette Martyn