World Health Organization (WHO) officials are raising concerns about the number of doctors and other health workers who have succumbed to the deadly novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV.)
Chinese officials have the number of health care workers suffering from the virus as over 1,700, although the actual figure may be much higher. Around 1,500 of those cases are in the epicenter of Hubei Province, and six have died, as of Tuesday, Feb. 11.
China’s National Health Commission deputy head Zeng Yixin released the information on the number of health workers infected at a press conference on Friday, making it the first time China has released official numbers on the infection among health workers.
The figures released on Feb.14 are of little comfort to the families of those who became infected earlier, as health care workers in Wuhan were the first ones to treat infected patients. Wuhan’s Municipal Health Committee sent out a notice to staff on Dec. 30 and stressed any information regarding cases of unknown pneumonia was to be kept strictly to authorized personnel, with no leaks.
Three weeks later, Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan publicly stated that the coronavirus had infected 14 medical staff, and the disease was being transmitted human-to-human.
Among the six doctors who died was Li Wenliang, considered a hero for blowing the whistle on the coronavirus infection in December, before Communist Party officials had deemed the information ready for publication. He was punished, and later contracted the virus himself and died, causing an outpouring of grief and anger from Chinese citizens.
A respiratory surgeon at Xinhua Hospital, close to the China Seafood Market where the disease is believed to have first been transmitted to humans, fell ill with a fever on Jan. 6, and tests indicated he had viral pneumonia, reports Caixin.
A neurologist began to show coronavirus symptoms on Jan. 11, after having been in contact with infected patients. As his condition worsened, it was found the virus was spreading among many of the 900 staff, including dentists, lab technicians, dermatologists, and security staff.
Specialist Liang Wudong, the ear, nose, and throat department head fell ill with coronavirus symptoms and was transferred to Jinyintan Hospital, where treatment for the virus is the mainstay. On Jan. 25 he died, becoming the first medical worker to die from the coronavirus.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said more needs to be known about this.“Health workers are the glue that holds the health system and outbreak response together,” said Tedros. “But we need to know more about this figure, including the time period and circumstances in which the health workers became sick.”
Michael J. Ryan, executive director of WHO Health Emergencies, attended a news conference on Feb. 11 and said they are working with China to determine when the infections among health workers occurred. Twelve health experts from the WHO and other parts of the world are expected to be in China this week to help with the disaster and will focus on understanding the transmission and severity of the coronavirus, reported VOA.
“Our understanding is that the cases amongst health workers peaked in the third and fourth week of January and there has been a rapid falloff in the number of cases that have occurred in health workers in the last two weeks,” Ryan said. “This may reflect increased levels of training, increased levels of protection and also increased levels of awareness. Remember, this outbreak has come, expanded very quickly in an unsuspecting health system.”
Although the official figures in China have climbed to almost 70,000 infections, there are some scientists who estimate the number of infected people could be 10 times higher, with many of those infected only presenting with minor symptoms, but still with the ability to pass on the deadly virus to others.