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Study reveals the impact of a second wave of Covid-19 can be devastating for our health care workers

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Are our health workers prepared for a second wave of the coronavirus pandemic? This question attempts to answer a new paper, published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, on the impact of coronaviruses (SARS, MERS and COVID-19, separately and jointly) on the physical and mental health of these workers.

“What is most striking is how high the effect has been on the mental health of professionals, not only in the COVID-19 crisis but also in the SARS and MERS crisis,” explains Gonzalo Salazar de Pablo, a predoctoral researcher at the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM) and the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience at King’s College London and one of the authors.

“However, we have also been surprised by the low frequency of post-traumatic stress symptoms in those exposed to COVID-19, although we suspect that it may increase significantly in the coming months,” he continues. “Some scientists refer to this possible medium-long-term effect as the fourth wave.”

Professionals have been exposed to a great deal of stress and that has led to significant psychological problems. Among them, more than one in four have had depressive or anxiety symptoms

The new research, which includes a review of articles, has taken into account any health worker: doctors and nurses, but also nursing assistants, administrative staff, cleaning staff.

Regarding the consequences for physical health, the most frequent has been that those professionals with a coronavirus infection develop a fever (75.9%), cough (47.9%), muscle pain or pain (43.6%), chills (42.3%), fatigue (41.2%), headaches (34.6%), dyspnea or respiratory distress (31.2%), sore throat (25.3%), nausea or vomiting ( 22.2%) and diarrhoea (18.8%).

On a psychological level, professionals have been exposed to a great deal of stress and that has led to significant psychological problems. “Among them, more than a third have had insomnia and burnout problems – a burned or exhausted worker.” More than one in four have had depressive or anxiety symptoms. They have also suffered stigma due to their profession and contact with the virus,” adds Salazar.

“It is important for professionals to have psychological attention quickly in the event of mental health problems. I think it would be good to implement preventive measures that try to improve resilience and optimize coping measures for health workers,” he says. 

What has this crisis revealed

Despite having one of the best healthcare facilities in the world, the authors wonder whether this crisis has served to highlight the precariousness of healthcare personnel.

“Our healthcare is so good precisely because, although professionals have a very high workload, they are willing and used to working 100% and with just the right resources. However, when demand rises dramatically there is no room for manoeuvre and the situation is not sustainable. Basically, the system collapses,” says Salazar.

“Society has an important job. We have gone through a difficult situation, with many limitations and we want to forget what has happened, but it is time to be responsible,” explain the authors.

The expert makes it clear how these workers can be helped: “Society has a very important job. They will be forced to decide whether to do a leisure activity or not, put on a mask or not … We have been through a difficult situation, with many limitations and we want to forget what has happened, but it is time to be responsible.”

“Regarding public administrations, in the case of health professionals, the most important thing is that security measures be established. It is not so far when there was not enough quality personal protective equipment,” he adds.

Reference: Salazar de Pablo, G., Vaquerizo-Serrano, J., Catalan, A., Arango, C., Moreno, C., Ferre, F., Shin, JI., Sullivan, S., Brondino, N. , Solmi, M. and Fusar-Poli, P. “Impact of coronavirus syndromes on physical and mental health of health care workers: Systematic review and meta-analysis”. Journal of Affective Disorders 275 (2020). DOI: 10.1016 / j.jad.2020.06.022.

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