Health officials in hazmat suits check body temperatures of passengers arriving from the city of Wuhan at the airport in Beijing. Image Credit: AP

Dubai: As coronavirus spreads, just how do doctors, nurses, paramedics and other health care workers in the front line of exposure protect themselves, both physically and mentally?

Those that Gulf News spoke to said much of their energies, at the moment, is being spent on constantly educating people on the need for hand hygiene, use of sanitisers, covering mouth while sneezing, safe disposal of tissues and so on. Putting aside their own their feelings of vulnerability and stress, the call of the hour for them is to rise to the occasion and evaluate cases that come to them for any potential coronavirus threat.

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Medical staff must necessarily wear protective gear. Photo for illustrative purpose only Image Credit: AFP

One doctor said the thermal screening of passengers at airports has proved very useful. Dr Hamad Khan, Emergency Physician at Prime Hospital, said being in close proximity to the airport, the hospital has been seeing a high number of patients detected with fever through the thermal cameras.

“With families, parents and young children, we do feel vulnerable, anxious and stressed at times, but that is not the point. As health care workers, we are committed to meeting the challenge at hand. Getting simple sore throat and cough cases at emergencies is common now as people are not taking chances, but we are following a complete and elaborate protocol issued by the health authorities and that is reassuring ,” said Dr Khan.

Interview, intervene and isolate

Dr Khan said following the precautionary guidelines had so far kept them safe. “We follow guidelines from Dubai Health Authority which stipulates “interview, intervention and isolation”. When the patient walks in with common flu-like symptoms, we have to triage and interview him and check if he has a travel history to any of the countries of concern or has been in close contact with a COVID-19 patient here. While we do that, we wear the standard Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) which includes masks, goggles, gloves and gown which are all discarded into the hazardous waste bin after the examination. We have avoided N-95 masks as these cause more panic than reassurance and wear the standard surgical mask, plus use of hand sanitisers as a hand hygiene precaution.”

“Only if the patient proceeds to the isolation stage, do we wear disposable Hazmat suits. So far, we have not had the need to do that but have three negative pressure isolation rooms ready as well as the capacity to provide isolation rooms for 300 cases as per the CDC guidelines if the need arises. DHA has been very proactive and we have a debriefing with them every six hours daily and all health care centres are being monitored closely,” he added.

Positivity is the key

“I have been through several infectious outbreaks and am not scared,”

said Bobby John, registered male nurse with Right Clinic’s new Al Sanaiya Clinic in Al Quoz.

He said he is aware of the risks associated with the profession, but he derives tremendous satisfaction from serving hundreds of blue collar workers who come to the clinic daily.

“I am not scared at all, although we are receiving more patients with sore throat, cough and cold at our clinics these days. As a trained nurse from Kerala, I have received ample education on infection control during such outbreaks. I have been a nurse in the UAE for 14 years and have been through the SARS and MERS outbreaks. We follow the proper hygiene protocol. My wife is a nurse too and I have toddlers at home, but both of us do not dwell on negative thoughts. Every morning, we step out for work with positive thoughts. We feel this too shall pass.”

Tricky situation

A physiotherapist with a private hospital who does eight-hour shifts every day with one-hour physio sessions with each patient, said, “Our patients who come for sessions usually have not been through any examination for infectious diseases. There is a high chance they are infection-free, but we have no way to be sure, especially when we know many patients in the gestation period of exposure to the virus manifest no symptoms. It is a very tricky situation but we must be equipped. Our best defence is to wear masks, goggles and gloves. Between each session I practise hand hygiene.”

A security guard stationed at a popular hospital said he too was not afraid of infection exposure.

“I do not let that fear cloud my mind. But at the same time in my line of duty where I am stationed at the main entrance of the hospital, I take charge of my safety first and wear gloves, mask and goggles and use hand sanitiser as well. I have received training to assess patients coming to our hospital. If they manifest signs of cold, cough and sneezing, it is my duty to hand them masks, gloves and hand sanitisers now.”

It’s tough to work with Hazmat suits

A paramedic with a private ambulance service said they must wear disposable hazmat suits when called to attend to an ambulance request.

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Health officials in hazmat suits is not an uncommon sight across the world after the coronavirus outbreak Image Credit: AP

“It is difficult to function with Hazmat suits as they can be constraining . I know they are our best protection in the front line to exposure but sometimes the suits also create a scare. I follow all hygiene protocol thoroughly after having lifted a patient. As a trained paramedic, I know the protocols are elaborate, but as a human being I feel vulnerable, so I must take due care. Moreover, I need to protect other patients too.”