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Coronavirus (COVID - 19)

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Coronavirus (COVID - 19)

The Australian Physiotherapy Association is aware of concerns regarding the spread of Novel Coronavirus (COVID - 19), which had its origins in Wuhan, Hubei province, China, and has spread to a number of other Chinese provinces as well as other countries.

The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus a Public Health Emergency of International Concern requiring a global coordinated effort.

We will continue to monitor the situation and provide our members with relevant up-to-date information as it becomes available to support both physiotherapists and their patients.

We urge members to be vigilant for signs of the virus, in particular in patients who have recently travelled from China and those in close contact with them. Symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, vomiting and difficulty breathing.

Steps to take immediately:

  • discuss a plan of action with your staff/colleagues
  • ensure that all clinical and non-clinical staff should have a good understanding of infection control principles
  • know the signs of the coronavirus and be vigilant
  • place information posters in your clinic or workplace
  • have a supply of masks available in your clinic
  • use preventative measures to limit the spread of virus.

In your workplace

Patients

You can reduce the risk or prevent the transmission of infectious diseases by embedding infection control measures in everyday practice. This includes educating all clinical and non-clinical staff on infection control principles.

State health authorities are urging health practitioners to watch for patients with fever and respiratory symptoms returning from ‘specific’ travel to Wuhan (or other areas of confirmed infection) or who have been in contact with someone who has travelled.

A suspected case must have:

  • epidemiological criteria – as in, have travelled to these areas OR had a close contact in 14 days before illness onset with a confirmed or suspected case of 2019nCOV
  • clinical criteria – acute respiratory infection (respiratory infection with at least one of: shortness of breath, cough or sore throat) with or without fever or history of fever.

A key is to ensure good triage protocols and avoid having patients suspected of having the virus sitting in your waiting room with other patients.

If a person confirms that they have been to the Hubei province of China or have been in contact with people with the Coronavirus infection, you should:

  • provide a surgical mask to the patient and
  • ask them to present to their GP or Emergency Department immediately (after phoning ahead to warn them that they are coming).

Practices may consider displaying a poster on the exterior of the premise advising those with symptoms to use a mask and notify staff immediately. A sample poster is available on the Department of Health website.

Staff

It’s imperative to also take note of important Work (Occupational) Health and Safety (WHS) considerations during this time.

Within practices, there is a WHS obligation to do everything reasonably practicable to ensure the health and safety of anyone who enters the workplace (this includes workers, patients, carers etc.). This includes limiting the spread of illness (including coronavirus) wherever reasonably possible. Preventative measures to limit the spread of the virus include*:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water before and after eating as well as after attending the toilet;
  • Avoiding contact with others (including touching, kissing, hugging, and other intimate contact); and;
  • Coughing or sneezing into your elbow

*Information provided by the Department of Health

You may also consider disinfecting items such as communal computers/phones, reception desks, waiting areas etc.

If you have a staff member/s who has/have travelled to Wuhan, Hubei province, China in the past 2 weeks, it may be prudent to require them to obtain medical clearance from a doctor before returning to the workplace, particularly if they are experiencing any symptoms such as a cough, runny nose, fever or sore throat OR if they came in close contact with anyone with those symptoms.

If a staff member/s has/have travelled to mainland China (but not to Hubei province) in the past 2 weeks, you may still ask that they obtain medical clearance if they are experiencing those symptoms or if they came in close contact with anyone with those symptoms.

It is important to remember that you cannot act in a discriminatory manner towards your patients or staff members and that any action taken must be considered reasonable to fulfil your WHS obligations.

As in normal circumstances, if any of your employees are noticeably unwell (i.e. not fit for work) they should remain at home until they are fit to return to work (with medical clearance).

General information about Novel Coronavirus (COVID - 19)

Information about Novel Coronavirus (COVID - 19), including its symptoms, can be found at the Department of Health website.

The World Health Organisation provides daily updates, information and guidance about the outbreak.

Face masks

You should wear face masks when consulting potential coronavirus cases, however face masks are not recommended for the general population.

People who have symptoms and might be infected with novel coronavirus (COVID - 19) are required to stay in isolation at home and should wear a surgical face mask when in the same room as another person and when seeking medical advice to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to anyone else.

Health care workers who are caring for patients with suspected novel coronavirus should use P2 masks to protect against the virus, but these must be fit tested and worn properly.

You can contact your local Primary Health Network (PHN) if you are experiencing difficulty in accessing face mask supply. PHN contact details are available here.

Resources

The Department of Health provides latest information for health professionals and their patients:

Posters to display at your clinic/workplace

For people with a suspected case

More information

The World Health Organisation’s advice to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection include:

  • Frequently clean hands by using alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water
  • When coughing and sneezing cover mouth and nose with flexed elbow or tissue – throw tissue away immediately and wash your hands
  • Avoid close contact with anyone that has fever and cough

For more information on the coronavirus, you can contact the Public Health Information Line on 1800 004 599.

 

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