28 April 2020

IGC starts COVID-19 prevalence study in healthcare professionals

Testing overtime will help protecting healthcare professionals and services

In an initial stage 1000 healthcare professionals from West Lisbon Hospital Center (CHLO, which comprises Egas Moniz, Santa Cruz and São Francisco Xavier) and Professor Doutor Fernando Fonseca Hospital (Amadora-Sintra) will be monitored to identify if they have been exposed to and infected by SARS-CoV-2 vírus. This initiative aims to test 3.000 health workers from other Hospital Units and Health Centers in the country.

The high rate of asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 has been a real challenge in containing the pandemic, since transmission takes place often in individuals that do not know they are ill. Healthcare professionals, who are at the forefront of the response, have been greatly affected by this as they may be infect or infect others. Therefore, it becomes critical to test and monitor infection in the hospital setting.

Mónica Bettencourt-Dias, director of Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência, points out that “this is a highly exposed group and our intervention will go beyond the diagnosis: we will monitor transmission and immune response”, these data “are essential to identify which healthcare professionals have been exposed to and infected by the virus, allowing hospitals to adjust their strategies”. “These data will allow us to check if people that have been infected have antibodies, for how long and also if they are resistant to new infections”, states Carlos Penha Gonçalves, principal investigator at the IGC and one of the coordinators of this study.

Healthcare professionals will be monitored every 3 weeks for a period of at least 3 months. The data collected will be key for protecting and caring for this professionals, manage teams and services and assure the viability of healthcare provision, while also gathering valuable information to prepare the country’s response to other waves of infection.

In hospitals there are “doctors, nurses, technicians, auxiliaries at emergency services, pre-hospital care, wards and intensive care units dedicated only to COVID-19 patients. This project will give us an opportunity to voluntarily test these professionals and determine their level of exposure and immunity” states Rita Perez, Chairman of the Board of Directors of West Lisbon Hospital Center. Rita Perez adds that “we have a great interest in taking part in the initiative from the start, as a way of protecting those who make a real difference in this pandemic”.