Healing hands at increased risk

 Enquiries by  Deccan Herald revealed that the doctors and paramedical staff treating patients with confirmed cases of swine flu at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Chest Diseases (RGICD) have been instructed by higher authorities not to take Tamiflu (anti-viral drug) themselves.

According to instructions from the State health department, only patients are to be administered the drug.

This leaves the doctors and the paramedics, who take samples from the patients everyday, vulnerable to the highly contagious virus. What exposes them all the more is that the N95 masks are not protective enough to prevent the virus from infecting. The inexplicable instructions come in the face of an increasing number of H1N1 positive cases in Bangalore.

Standing orders

They are also in violation of standing orders from the US-based Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, under the Consultancy Development Centre, that designated doctors and paramedics taking care of patients to take prophylases (like Tamiflu) as a precautionary measure. The centre’s website categorically says: “Certain persons at ongoing occupational risk for exposure who are also at higher risk for complications of influenza (eg., health care personnel, public health workers, or first responders who are working in communities with influenza A H1N1 outbreaks) should carefully follow guidelines for appropriate personal protective equipment or consider temporary reassignment.”

When contacted, RGICD director Dr Shashidhar Buggi said it was not mandatory for doctors and nurses on duty at the ward to take the anti-viral tablets which the institute does not have too many.

Dr Buggi said “it has been a week since we reported the first positive case and I have been interacting with these patients... I have not developed any infection till now”.
Despite this apparent apathetic attitude of senior health department officials, on-duty doctors and paramedics on their own have begun taking Tamiflu. “The drug does have some side effects like gasteroenteritis, but we are enduring even that as we are on almost round-the-clock duty for over a month,” an RGICD staff deputed at the Swine flu ward said.

According to former UNICEF programme officer Dr M Seenappa, who has worked closely on the H1N1 virus, health officials at the airport and at RGICD come under the high-risk category as they are exposed to the virus for long. He said that inspite of using N95 masks and taking other precautionary measures, the risk of contracting the disease is high among those taking care of patients.

Dr Seenappa added that medical staff in other countries work on a rotation basis and are required to take chemoprophylaxis (Tami Flu) as a preventive measure. Recently, a nurse in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, who was in contact with some H1N1 positive patients, failed to take the anti-viral drug and contracted the disease.

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