(CNN) – Ning Zhu, a nurse in Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the heart of a deadly coronavirus outbreak, is restless.
Instead of helping on the front line, he has been under quarantine at home for weeks, after a chest scan on January 26 revealed that he had a suspected case of the new coronavirus.
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Zhu was told to wait for a nucleic acid test that would provide the final verdict, but it never came.
“Right now, it’s really a problem. Our hospital already has more than 100 people in quarantine at home, ”he told CNN by phone. It has been confirmed that another 30 medical workers have the virus, he said.
“If the tests are good, we can go back to work. I don’t really have any symptoms, there is only a small problem with my CT scan, there seems to be a bit of infection, ”he said.
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Zhu estimates that of the hospital’s 500 doctors, more than 130 may have been affected by the virus, which has so far infected more than 60,000 worldwide. He refused to disclose the name of his hospital and asked to use a pseudonym since he was not authorized to speak with the media.
The situation in your hospital is not unique. A nurse at Wuhan Central Hospital said on Weibo, the Chinese platform similar to Twitter, that around 150 colleagues in her hospital have been confirmed or suspected of being infected, including herself.
The nurse, who had been under quarantine at home since she was infected last month, finally entered the hospital where she works for treatment on Tuesday.
“The floor (of inpatients) where I live is basically full of colleagues from my hospital,” he wrote in a post on Wednesday. “They are mostly double or triple rooms, with the names and bed numbers of my colleagues clearly written in black and white on the doors.”
Every time fellow doctors came to see her, she said she held her breath. “I fear that the virus inside my body will come out and infect these colleagues who still stand firm in the front line,” he wrote.
On Friday, it was revealed that 1,716 health workers across the country had been infected by the virus, six of whom had died, according to the National Health Commission (NHC) of China. Almost 90% (87.5%) of these doctors come from Hubei Province, of which Wuhan is the capital.
More than 1,000 infected in Wuhan
Health workers have long faced a high risk of infection during major outbreaks, including the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic that swept through China from late 2002 through 2003. However, in Wuhan, the epicenter of the new corronavirus outbreak, that risk is now exacerbated by a severe shortage of medical resources to cope with the influx of patients, as well as the government’s late warning of the high infection rate.
In Wuhan alone, 1,102 medical workers have been infected, representing 73% of infections in the province and 64% in the entire country.
The city of 11 million people has 398 hospitals and almost 6,000 community clinics. However, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission has designated nine hospitals to treat cases of coronavirus, as well as 61 other hospitals whose outpatient clinics will receive patients with fever, which is believed to be a common symptom of pneumonia-like disease.
In some of these designated hospitals, medical personnel have constituted a significant percentage of infected patients.
For example, at Zhongnan Hospital, one of 61 hospitals dealing with cases, 40 health workers had been infected, representing almost 30% of the 138 coronavirus patients admitted by the hospital from 1 to 28 January, according to a research paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week.
Peng Zhiyong, director of acute medicine at Zhongnan Hospital, co-author of the article, told the Chinese research news magazine Caixin that “the proportion is already very small compared to other hospitals.”
At Wuhan Hospital No.7, another of the 61 facilities, two-thirds of the intensive care unit staff were infected due to a shortage of medical resources, Peng said, citing his deputy director who was sent to help that hospital, according to the report.
The Wuhan government has recognized the shortage of medical supplies, such as N95 specialized respiratory masks, goggles and protective suits. Hospitals throughout Wuhan have repeatedly asked for help on social media, requesting more donations of protective equipment, which are vital to protect frontline personnel from contracting the virus from patients.
At Weibo, a People’s Daily publication showed medical staff at a Wuhan hospital creating protective equipment with plastic bags.
In addition to the lack of masks, gloves and protective suits, the exhausting workload has brought medical workers to their limits. It is believed that cross-infections among hospital staff took place in tea rooms and meeting areas, after long shifts, according to David Hui Shu-cheong, a breathing expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, citing doctors who They were sent from Beijing to help hospitals in Wuhan.
On Friday, the CNH promised to “tangibly improve the conditions of frontline medical workers” and better protect their rights and interests.
READ: China has just built a hospital in 10 days. He did that
“I have total respect and gratitude towards all the frontline medical workers, but what we really need to do is give them more attention and support,” said the deputy director of the commission, Zeng Yixin.
Transmission from person to person
However, the seed of the problem had been sown early in the crisis, even before medical resources began to run out.
The government’s initial delay in disseminating information about the outbreak meant that medical personnel were not aware of the potential dangers during their early stages. Wuhan Mayor Zhou Xianwang admitted to CCTV at the end of last month that his government did not disclose information about the coronavirus “in a timely manner.”
The Chinese authorities repeatedly stressed in the first days of the outbreak that no health worker was infected, an important signal for a possible transmission from person to person used to suggest that the virus was not so contagious.
Li Wenliang, a Wuhan doctor who died of the coronavirus, had tried to warn others at the beginning of the outbreak, but was silenced and sanctioned by the police for “spreading rumors.” The repression of Li, along with other doctors who tried to sound the alarm of the virus, has probably caused unnecessary cross infections within hospitals, as well as in families and communities.
The Supreme Court of China said in a comment on January 28 that if people had listened to Li’s warnings, they could have “taken measures such as wearing masks, strict disinfection and avoiding going to the wildlife market.”
Without realizing the health risks, many doctors and nurses only wore disposable masks when treating possible patients with coronaviruses at the beginning of the outbreak. Ivan Hung, head of the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Hong Kong, said those masks alone are “definitely inadequate” to protect themselves from the virus.
READ: How Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, who warned about the coronavirus, died twice in Chinese state media
“Basically, medical personnel should wear N95 masks, glasses or face masks and protective suits not only in isolation rooms, but also in emergency departments and medical rooms, basically anywhere you can get in touch with coronavirus patients.” , said.
Li, 34, was an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital. He later died after involuntarily contracting the virus from a patient on January 10, which caused a torrent of pain and indignation, as well as a call for freedom of expression. “I was wondering why official (government) notices kept saying there was no person-to-person transmission and that there were no infected health workers,” Li said in a Weibo post.
According to a study of the first 425 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Wuhan published in the New England Journal of Medicine last month, seven health workers in Wuhan had already shown symptoms of infection between January 1 and 10.
But on January 11, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission continued to insist that “so far no infection has been found among medical staff,” reiterating that “there was no clear evidence of transmission from person to person.”
The World Health Organization also said in its statements of January 14 and 17 that China had not reported any cases of infection among health workers.
It was not until January 20, when Zhong Nanshan, a breathing expert appointed by the government, declared on the state CCTV broadcaster that the new coronavirus could spread from person to person, that the infection of medical workers was revealed.
As evidence of human transmission, Zhong, an 83-year-old doctor known to combat the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) 17 years ago, revealed that 14 medical workers in a hospital had been infected by a patient.
The next day, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission admitted in a statement that, as of January 21, “a total of 15 health workers have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus,” and it was suspected that another was also infected . One of them was in serious condition, the statement said.
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Since then, however, the commission has not announced any update on the number of confirmed or suspected cases among city hospital staff, even when Chinese media have published multiple reports that offer insight into the true scale of infections in the hospitals.
The infection of medical workers is not only occurring in the designated hospitals of Wuhan, but it is also being observed in other facilities and cities in China.
At the Wuhan Mental Health Center, the largest psychiatric hospital in Hubei Province, which supposedly should not treat patients with coronavirus, 50 patients and 30 medical staff members have been diagnosed with the new coronavirus after being infected crossed inside the hospital, state news agency China Newsweek reported last week, citing multiple sources at the hospital.
When he was contacted to comment on the cases, the hospital director told China Newsweek: “We now have discipline requirements and can no longer accept telephone interviews,” the report said.
Meanwhile, the virus has spread to all regions of mainland China, including the western border of Xinjiang and the remote region of Tibet. The authorities in Beijing and the provinces of Guangxi, Jiangxi and Hainan have reported individual cases of infection among hospital staff, which amounts to two dozen people.
By Tuesday, a fund created by ByteDance, the Beijing-based startup behind the popular short video platform TikTok, to help health workers affected by the coronavirus had already sponsored 190 infected doctors, including five who died , the company said in a statement in a statement to CNN.
Before Friday, the NHC had not provided a count of infected medical workers. Finally, he released the numbers more than two months after the outbreak, in an inter-institutional briefing organized by the State Council on the safety of medical workers.
During the SARS outbreak, Chinese authorities appeared to be more open about the infection of medical personnel after an initial attempt to cover up the outbreak. By mid-February 2003, the Guangdong provincial government had announced that 105 of the 305 cases of SARS found in the province were medical workers. The Ministry of Health, the predecessor of the National Health Commission, also included the number of health workers in its infection number reports, with breakdowns by province.
By May 30, 2003, a total of 966 medical workers had been infected, representing 18% of the 5,328 cases in China, according to the ministry.
For now, the infection rate of health workers seems to be much lower than during SARS. The 1,716 infected medical employees as of Tuesday alone represent 3.8% of all confirmed cases, the NHC said.
Hung, the professor at the University of Hong Kong, said he was confident that frontline medical workers will now have better protective equipment than those produced 17 years ago during the SARS epidemic. He also believed that they were being produced in factories to meet demand.
“The main problem is what happened at the beginning of the outbreak, which had repercussions that have lasted until today,” he said, referring to cross-infections in poorly prepared hospitals.
“When you have no idea what you are facing, there will surely be negligence,” he said.