Healthcare workers at higher risk of infections

Last Friday's report highlighted what the National University Hospital did to screen for any tuberculosis infection from the infected nurse to the patients she had cared for ("NUH recalls 178 children for TB tests").

We also ought to view this incident from the perspective of healthcare workers.

Pre-employment medical screening for medical personnel often includes tests for infective illnesses like TB, hepatitis B and HIV.

So, the nurse involved was unlikely to have had TB when she joined the hospital.

Most likely, she acquired TB infection during the course of her work.

Medical studies have shown that healthcare workers are indeed more likely to suffer from TB infection than the general public.

While precautions like isolating infective patients or wearing protective gear may reduce the risk of infection transmission, some transmission still occurs, as some illnesses like TB may have silent incubation periods.

As I am also a healthcare worker, I can sympathise with the nurse.

Most (if not all) of us have contact with patients with infective diseases on a daily basis.

Besides TB, there are also diseases such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and the common cold.

If we pick up infection from our patients, we put other patients, our colleagues and our families at risk, too.

The nurse involved did all the right things, including seeking medical consultation when she had a recurrent cough, and taking medication once diagnosis was made.

She ought to be hailed as a role model for nurses.

Desmond Wai (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 08, 2015, with the headline 'Healthcare workers at higher risk of infections'. Print Edition | Subscribe