Illness Narratives In Global Health

Storytelling is a powerful tool that allows us to relate to one another across borders, cultures, and experiences. It is a significant aspect of global health. Images associated with international health are those of pediatric patients in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) with descriptions of ailment or news stories on television of an outbreak in a faraway country. These stories capture our attention and allow us to process situations far removed from ours. While stories allow us to communicate the urgency and extent of international health topics, there are challenges associated with illness narratives. It is important to examine how stories are told in medicine, and specifically in global health. It is critical to question who tells stories, how they’re told, and what their impact is. These can be stories of individual patients in a country, medical aid organizations, or even stories of a country’s health infrastructure.

A recent Lancet essay titled “Global Health 2021: Who tells the Story” examines the role of journals when it comes to research in academic global health. The essay cites data showing a lower number of publications authored by those affiliated with or came from LMIC in The Lancet Global Health(1). Here, the authors reflect on how, as a London-based global health journal, they need to examine the narration disparities. They note that an imbalance in authorship is a symptom of an imbalance in power when it comes to academic global health.

This essay was in part motivated by a crucial article by Seye Abimola and Madhukar Pai. In their article examining the decolonization of global health, Abimola and Par state “even today, global health is neither global nor diverse. More leaders of global health organisations are alumni of Harvard than are women from low-income and middle-income countries. Global health remains much too centred on individuals and agencies in high-income countries (HICs).”(2) This important point highlights the distance between the subject of stories and those who tell them. This can limit diversity in perspective while taking away ownership of stories from those who experience it.

An article looking at illness narratives in an outbreak reported that when it comes to Ebola, Zika, and SARS, marginalized communities often bear the burden of disease while their account of illness is often neglected. The authors state, “regardless of income setting, there is a need to give voice to the most marginalized communities during an epidemic.”(3) This point on narration should extend beyond authorship in research to include news coverage of global health events. The way the Ebola outbreak and even early days of COVID pandemic were portrayed are examples of the dangers associated with lack of nuance in the way global health topics are discussed in the media.

Inclusivity of illness narratives around global health can allow us to avoid pitfalls that lead to widespread misinformation and discrimination. In addition to examining who tells the story, it is also important to explore how stories are told. An essay highlighting the challenges of storytelling in medicine notes that at times the trauma of subjects has been exploited by international charities. The article states the importance of communicating stories in a way that does not “feast on the trauma of others”(4). 

At the core of his argument is the need to examine how we communicate the stories of others. As described above, allowing locals to tell stories regarding their experience of illness, outbreaks, and research can help us deal more carefully with the associated trauma. Stories told without careful consideration can lead to widespread misinformation and potentially harmful generalizations. As we move towards examining how we improve global health delivery, it is critical to explore how we can improve the stories we share. In order to create a better system to communicate important global health topics, it is imperative to challenge the ways we receive information constantly.

This will broaden our understanding of complex issues and allow us to consider alternative solutions.

To this end, the following five questions should help us navigate the challenges of global storytelling. These questions are suggested to help guide our approach towards a more

  1. Has the subject given informed consent to tell their story?
  2. How is the story presented?
  3. Is there a way to allow the story subject to be
  4. Do the stories told reinforce harmful stereotypes?
  5. Are there negative consequences to the subject if the story is told?

References and Further Reading

  1. Health TLG. Global health 2021: who tells the story? The Lancet Global Health. 2021;9(2):e99.
  2. Abimbola S, Pai M. Will global health survive its decolonisation? The Lancet. 2020;396(10263):1627-1628.
  3. Kapiriri L, Ross A. The politics of disease epidemics: a comparative analysis of the sars, zika, and ebola outbreaks. Glob Soc Welf. 2020;7(1):33-45.The
  4. Harman S. The danger of stories in global health. The Lancet. 2020;395(10226):776-777
Cite this article as: Nardos Makonnen, USA, "Illness Narratives In Global Health," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 5, 2021, https://iem-student.org/2021/04/05/illness-narratives-in-global-health/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

iEM Image Feed: Camel Bite

iem image feed camel bite
camel bite injury

EMS brought a 24-year-old man due to camel bite happened while feeding the camel in the early morning. The injury was basically on the right arm and forearm. No other injuries, vitally stable.

Students should know the following while taking care of these patients.

  1. Systematic evaluation of the patient – remember ATLS, primary and secondary survey.
  2. Focused neurologic and vascular examination.
  3. Exposing the wound and ordering an x-ray
  4. Wound cleaning and management
  5. Be aware of fracture – Open Fracture!
  6. Antibiotic coverage and tetanus toxoid/IG
  7. For open fractures – Look for Gustilo-Anderson Classification and choose appropriate antibiotics.  
  8. Do not forget – pain medication.
Cite this article as: iEM Education Project Team, "iEM Image Feed: Camel Bite," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, February 10, 2021, https://iem-student.org/2021/02/10/camel-bite/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

The Unspoken Damage of COVID-19 on Spanish-Speaking Patients

The Unspoken Damage of COVID-19 on Spanish-Speaking Patients

The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered some ugly truths about the American healthcare system. One of the ugliest is discrimination against non-English-speaking patients. This form of discrimination particularly affects native Spanish-speaking only patients (defined in this article as “Spanish-speaking patients), who comprise not only a large proportion of America’s hospital patronage but also a majority of those suffering from COVID-19.

In May 2020, as part of my Emergency Medicine residency training, I worked at a small community hospital in northern Virginia, located in an agricultural area with a large number of Central American and Mexican migrant workers. The first few days of the rotation were relatively unremarkable until the COVID-19 cases began to pour in. Most of those suffering from severe COVID-19 were Spanish-speaking patients employed at a local plant nursery where an outbreak was occurring.

I intubated a COVID-19 patient almost every day I worked there. I speak Spanish fluently, and since I was able to communicate with Spanish-speaking patients and their families, I was able to obtain consent for the procedure. I will never forget one patient who had tears rolling down his face shortly after intubation as we titrated his post-intubation sedation medications. I spoke with his son over the phone, in Spanish, who thanked me profusely and cried, worried he would never see his father alive again. He asked if he could visit his father in the hospital. He cried more when I explained the no visitor policy for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. He still thanked me.

The ER staff also thanked me, because until I arrived, few in-person Spanish interpreters or fluent Spanish-speaking providers worked there. Therefore Spanish-speaking patients consented to intubations using a phone-based interpretation service. Though The Joint Commission states that telephone or video interpretation is sufficient to obtain informed consent (especially during the COVID-19 pandemic), in-person interpretation has proved superior. Unfortunately, at this small hospital, out of necessity and due to inundation by COVID-19 victims, Spanish-speaking patients had occasionally been intubated without true informed consent. For example, I remember a case when the overwhelmed nursing staff struggled to connect to and understand the phone-based interpreter while donning PPE and equipping a Spanish-speaking patient’s room for emergent intubation, only to be followed shortly thereafter by another critical COVID-19 patient.

Despite the large number of Spanish-speaking patients receiving care in the United States, a 2016 survey of 4,586 American hospitals showed that only 56 percent offered some sort of linguistic and translation services. As a former volunteer Spanish interpreter for a university hospital, the cost is cited as the primary reason, among many. Discrimination against undocumented people and xenophobia are unstated reasons. I remember distinctly a Grand Rounds presentation about native Spanish-speaking patients in hospitals and how a Latinx pediatrician emotionally expressed how often she witnessed Spanish-speaking families receive worse care than their English-speaking counterparts. Indeed, inadequate or inaccurate interpretation has resulted in serious legal, financial, and patient safety repercussions for hospitals.

In June, I worked in the COVID-19 ICU at my residency program’s hospital. Most of the COVID-19 ICU patients had been transferred from the same small hospital where I worked the previous May. After rounds, most of my afternoon was spent contacting Spanish-speaking family members and updating them on their loved one’s condition. It was heartbreaking to tell these families that they could not visit their loved ones in the hospital. Undoubtedly, the family is incredibly important to all cultures, and particularly to central and Mexican-Americans. Sadly, these strong family ties underscore an important reason Latinx people have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19: many live in large, multigenerational family homes, accelerating virus exposure and transmission. Furthermore, many are undocumented and work under substandard conditions, with few or no COVID-19 precautions. They may also be underinsured or have no insurance or benefits like sick leave, further fueling the virus’ devastation.

When you pull the bandage off a gangrenous wound to expose the decaying flesh below, you have two options: put the bandage back on and let someone else deal with it, or clean the wound and treat it so it can heal. The COVID-19 pandemic has pulled the bandage off and exposed certain disgusting realities of our health care system – how can we as Emergency Physicians heal this wound?

We must recognize that hospital under-investment in adequate Spanish interpreters is a form of racism. Medical Spanish should be required curriculum for medical students and residents. The knowledge of basic conversational Spanish goes a long way when communicating with patients and their families. Medical Spanish is not difficult, and there are enough cognates and Latin derivatives that most people, with minimal practice, can get through history and physical in Spanish. Most importantly, hospitals should invest in full-time in-person Spanish interpreters, at the very least for the Emergency Department.

The COVID-19 pandemic has ravaged our healthcare system in myriad ways. With destruction comes the opportunity to rebuild and improve. This is one area that needs it.

Cite this article as: Sarah Bridge, USA, "The Unspoken Damage of COVID-19 on Spanish-Speaking Patients," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, January 11, 2021, https://iem-student.org/2021/01/11/covid-19-on-spanish-speaking-patients/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

Question Of The Day #7

question of the day
qod7 - sepsis

Which of the following is the most appropriate next step in management for this patient’s condition?

This patient has a diagnosis of septic shock due to pneumonia. In all patients presenting to the Emergency Department, the initial assessment should involve the “ABCs” (assessment of Airway, Breathing, and Circulation). The patient is given supplemental oxygen for her hypoxemia with an improved oxygen saturation from 89% to 95%. Performing endotracheal intubation (Choice A) is too aggressive at this time as the patient is improving with non-invasive oxygenation techniques. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid sepsis guidelines recommend a 30 mL/kg of isotonic crystalloid fluid bolus in patients with sepsis. However, there is limited data to support this recommendation, as some patients may benefit from less or more fluids than 30 mL/kg. The question stem indicates that an appropriate bolus of fluids has been given, so providing more IV fluids (Choice B) is not the best course of action. The use of passive leg raising or bedside ultrasonography to assess for Inferior Vena Cava (IVC) size may help a clinician discern if more or less fluids are required. For example, visualizing a flat, collapsible IVC on ultrasound indicates additional fluids may be helpful. An increase in blood pressure after a patient’s legs are raised above the level of the heart (“passive leg raise”) also supports the use of additional IV fluids. Giving acetaminophen (Choice D) will help reduce the patient’s fever and improve patient comfort. However, initiating vasopressor therapy (Choice C) is the more appropriate next course of action. Vasopressors (i.e. norepinephrine, epinephrine) are generally recommended after IV fluid boluses if a patient is persistently hypotensive with a MAP less than 65mmHg. Vasopressors help to maintain cerebral and organ perfusion in states of shock. They should be titrated to a dose that maintains a MAP of 65mmHg or above.  Correct Answer: 

References

Nicks BA, Gaillard JP. Approach to Nontraumatic Shock. “Chapter 12: Approach to Nontraumatic Shock”. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9th ed. McGraw-Hill.

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #7," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 7, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/08/07/question-of-the-day-7/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

COVID-19; Reflecting on a Globalized Response

COVID-19; Reflecting on a Globalized Response

As I write this is, it has been 200 days since the first reports in China came out regarding an unspecified viral illness in Wuhan, China. What is now the pandemic of COVID-19 has spread around the world, and in history books and our collective memory, the year 2020 will forever be closely associated with this virus. There have been nearly 14 million confirmed cases around the world and nearly 600,000 known deaths from COVID-19. Some countries have done incredibly well with containment measures, while others continue to see case counts grow every day.

It has been fascinating to see how the outbreak has had different impacts in communities around the world, including how local and global responses have efficiently controlled or been unable to contain this novel public health problem. Prevention and mitigation strategies continue to form the foundation of public health management of this outbreak. The capacity for any country or locality to provide the most invasive supportive care is widely variable, and even when it is available mechanical ventilation is certainly not a panacea as COVID-19 case-survival rates in those being mechanically ventilated have been low (from 14% to 25%).

At the core of the variable outcomes seems to be a mix of sociological issues: a mix of personal beliefs, geography, politics, socio-economics and health infrastructure which lead to vastly different outcomes around the globe.

The accumulation of more epidemiological data over the past 200 days has improved our collective understanding of the COVID-19 virus, as today we have improved models and a better understanding of the rates of asymptomatic carriers (estimated at 40%) and mortality rates (1.4%-15.4%). Yet still, uncertainties and local variability (even within countries) have made an accurate calculation of the COVID-19 basic reproductive number (R0; the number of people who are infected by a single disease carrier) difficult. In the early stage of the outbreak in Wuhan, R0 calculation ranged from 1.4-5.7, and some have suggested that instead of single R0 value, modellers should consider using ongoing contact tracing to gain a better range of transmissibility values.

We have seen how prevention strategies such as hand-washing, face-masking, and physical distancing can impact local and disseminated disease spread. While many communities have come together through a collective approach to lock-downs and universal masking measures, other localities have struggled to get adequate levels of citizen compliance. Others have struggled with obtaining testing supplies. Certain political systems allow for streamlined and unified directives while others have made it difficult to provide adequate centralized coordination.

As the COVID-19 pandemic has spread to almost every country in the world, outbreaks are smoldering in much of the global south. While the United States continues to see rising numbers of cases with numerous states confronting ongoing daily record high incident cases, other countries such as Brazil are seeing similar upward trends. At the global level, the curve of daily incident cases seemed to have “flattened” and held steady through much of April and into May with aggressive seemingly worldwide measures. However, since the last days of May, global incident cases have been again steadily increasing. This is likely due to a variety of reasons but is linked, at least in part, to efforts to reopen economies and return to pre-pandemic routines and lifestyles.

covid-19 daily cases
Source: Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html, accessed July 17, 2020

As an American citizen and a physician with training in public health, it has been both interesting and frustrating to see the how some countries (including my own) have had deficiencies in dealing with testing and basic prevention (such as mandatory universal masking). While I don’t want to engage in political rhetoric or cast blame in any one place, I do think it is instructive to point out that in the United States (or anywhere else for that matter) the sociological factors of personal preferences and autonomy, geography, and local politics have had an overwhelming influence in determining the progress of the pandemic.

Quarantining has always been a unique problem that sits at the intersection of personal autonomy and communal wellbeing, and is implemented and respected by citizens in different ways around the world. It would seem, at least anecdotally, that cultures with an emphasis on personal independence and autonomous choice have had greater difficulty with containment or in obtaining high levels of compliance with masking and distancing measures, even when compared to other localities with similar socio-economic situations.

These sociological factors are key to responding to and managing any epidemic health concern. We have come to see that in our globalized world, our ability and desire to work together towards a common goal, even at the cost of personal sacrifice, will determine our ability to control both the COVID-19 pandemic and the next health crisis of the future.

Public health education and communication, it would seem, is at the crux to getting collective buy-in and global participation.

Unfortunately, as with so many things these days, such issues can be easily politicized and cause fractured and disparate approaches to response. In our globalized world, this coronavirus outbreak is unlikely to be the last public health crisis we must face as a worldwide community.

As thoughts turn towards what is to come, from vaccine development and distribution to numerous long-term economic impacts, we are not nearing the end of this outbreak yet.

The incidence curve is growing, and there is much work left to be done. My hope is that as we move into the second half of 2020, our global community can continue to find ways to improve communication and coordination in order to come together to approach and control this pandemic collectively. The fate of this outbreak, and likely the next, hangs in the balance.

Cite this article as: J. Austin Lee, USA, "COVID-19; Reflecting on a Globalized Response," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, August 3, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/08/03/covid-19-reflecting-on-a-globalized-response/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

Question Of The Day #6

question of the day
sepsis abdominal pain

Which of the following is the most likely cause of this patient’s condition?

This patient is in septic shock due to ascending cholangitis. Shock is a condition where the body is unable to deliver adequate perfusion to meet metabolic demands. Shock is often characterized by multiorgan dysfunction and hemodynamic changes (i.e. tachycardia, hypotension). Ascending cholangitis is a serious diagnosis that carries high mortality without prompt treatment and recognition. Causes of ascending cholangitis include choledocholithiasis, a biliary tract stricture, or compression by malignant disease. Some cases demonstrate Charcot’s Triad (fever, jaundice, right upper quadrant pain) or Reynolds’ Pentad (Charcot’s triad plus shock and altered mental status). This patient meets all 5 criteria of Reynolds’ Pentad. Rather than a gallstone obstructing the biliary tree, this patient has an underlying malignancy that is obstructing biliary outflow (hinted by weight loss and progressive jaundice over 3 months). Treatment includes antibiotics, IV fluids, and surgical management. The elevated white blood cell count, fever, history, and physical exam support the diagnosis of septic shock. Cardiogenic shock (Choice A) would be more likely in a patient with known baseline cardiac disease, a patient complaining of chest pain or shortness of breath, low ejection fraction seen on echocardiogram, and cold distal extremities. Conditions that can cause cardiogenic shock include STEMI, CHF, and myocarditis. Obstructive shock (Choice B) is seen in conditions, such as pulmonary embolism, tension pneumothorax, or cardiac tamponade. The patient’s history and physical do not support this diagnosis. Hypovolemic shock (Choice D) can be caused by severe dehydration or hemorrhagic shock (a type of hypovolemic shock). This patient likely has some component of dehydration, but septic shock is the primary condition in this patient. Septic shock is a form of Distributive shock (Choice C). Anaphylactic shock also is a type of Distributive shock. Correct Answer: C

References

Nicks BA, Gaillard JP. Approach to Nontraumatic Shock. “Chapter 12: Approach to Nontraumatic Shock”. In: Tintinalli JE, Ma O, Yealy DM, Meckler GD, Stapczynski J, Cline DM, Thomas SH. eds. Tintinalli’s Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide, 9th ed. McGraw-Hill.

Donaldson, R. (2020, May 2). Ascending cholangitis. WikEm. https://www.wikem.org/wiki/Ascending_cholangitis

Cite this article as: Joseph Ciano, USA, "Question Of The Day #6," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, July 31, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/07/31/question-of-the-day-6/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

The Kawasaki Disease Enigma Continues 150 years Later

kawasaki disease

Kawasaki disease (KD), or mucocutaneous lymph nodes syndrome is an immune-mediated inflammation in the walls of medium-sized arteries throughout the body. It’s complications result in the coronary arteries expanding, heart attacks, and premature death.

As the leading cause of heart disease in North American and Japanese children, KD continues to bewilder clinicians and researchers – even in the midst of a global pandemic. Possible links to SARS-CoV2 has even stirred uneasiness in patients, and physicians making diagnoses.

Beginning in Victorian-era England, a young boy presented to the doctor’s office with symptoms suggestive of scarlet fever; however, noticing heart disease in this child was just baffling. Despite being unaware of this rare disease, it was beyond physicians at the time; since then, progress has been limited as clinicians still fail to comprehend the disease’s root cause.

Dating back to 1874, KD was discovered by Samuel Gee while he was dissecting the cadaver of a seven-year-old boy.

He noticed something strange, “The pericardium was natural. The heart natural in size, and the valves healthy. The coronary arteries were dilated into aneurysms at three places, namely, at the apex of the heart a small aneurysm the size of a pea; at the base of the right ventricle, close to the tip of the right auricular appendix, and near to the mouth of one of the coronary arteries, another aneurysm of the same size; and at the back of the heart, at the base of the ventricles, and in the sulcus between the ventricles, a third aneurysm the size of a horse bean. These aneurysms contained small recent clots, quite loose. The aorta near the valves, and the aortic cusp of the mitral valve, presented specks of atheroma.

From his autopsy, evident was that Gee found aneurysms in the coronary arteries running across the surface of the boy’s heart. He then placed the specimen in a jar and provided it to the Barts Pathology Museum in London. Little did he know, that his specimen marked evidence of the earliest recorded case of KD and sparked worldwide medical curiosity. Unfortunately, when physicians 100 years later were hoping to retrieve samples from the specimen containing the boy’s heart, they were informed that it was missing.

A few years later, the disease was recognized in 1967 by the Japanese physician, Tomikasu Kawasaki. Although some researchers claimed the virus was unknown, others stated KD resulted from a bacterial or fungal toxin. The windborne theory suggested that the disease was seasonal, and as such, the direction of the swaying wind played a role in infection. Others stated that since children’s immune systems are still developing and since they have just lost the protective antibodies from their mothers, they are susceptible to infection. Therefore, in Asian American household’s diets rich in soy put Asian children at greater risk due to the isoflavones. In the 1980s, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suspected chemicals as the cause of KD, inferring that disease stems from agents that trigger an overreaction of the patient’s immune system. No one knew exactly what the mechanism or cause of KD was, although many scientists speculated some theories.

Over the last decade, significant progress toward understanding the pathogenesis, history, and therapeutic interventions of KD has been fruitful. Treatment aimed at the intravenous infusion of gamma globulin antibodies derived from the plasma of blood donations has helped children recover. In contrast, other therapies of corticosteroids for immunoglobulin-resistant patients and tumor inhibitors such as etanercept, infliximab, and cyclosporin A have been other medications providing relief.

The most significant clinical debate was over the possible link between the rash and the cardiac complications seen in Asian American children. Factors responsible for KD were introduced into Japan after World War II and re-emerged in a more virulent form spreading through the industrialized Western world. Advancements in medicine, improvements in healthcare, and, notably, the use of antibiotics reduced the burden of rash and fever illnesses significantly allowing KD to be recognized as a distinct clinical entity.

Nonetheless, the enigma pervades even during the COVID19 pandemic; this time, more pressing as the ever-elusive cause of KD that troubles children’s hearts affects physicians’ sleep and worries parents’ minds. Although the story of Kawasaki disease began decades ago when a young boy’s heart was locked inside a glass specimen, its ending is still being crafted. By the time the heart is found again at the museum, and placed safely for visitors treasuring ancient history, what further knowledge and progress will the scientific community have achieved? How far will humanity have come to find answers to KD and fill in the perplexing missing piece of the puzzle?

For now, there are no answers, but the enigma continues…

Cite this article as: Leah Sarah Peer, Canada, "The Kawasaki Disease Enigma Continues 150 years Later," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, July 24, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/07/24/kawasaki-disease-enigma-continues/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

References and Further Reading

Is it just a viral disease?

is it just a viral disease - dengue

The world is scared of COVID19. Brazilian health professionals too. But today I bring something else that has haunted Brazil for years. It’s dengue. Even with the COVID19 pandemic, the mosquito Aedes aegipty doesn’t give us a break.

Dengue is an arbovirus of the flavivirus genus, which is transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, and has 4 well-established serotypes: DENV-1, DENV-2, DENV-3, and DENV-4.

Dengue is an infectious viral disease which causes a feverish syndrome. Only in January, February and March, there are 94,149 probable cases of dengue in Brazil. In 2019, there were 1,527,119 cases. The intense summer, high temperatures, and rain helped with the proliferation of the vector last year. And, there was also a change in the serotype. Dengue has 4 circulating serotypes. Here in Brazil, the most common had been 1 and 4; however, the circulation of serotype 2 increased – linked to greater severity and hemorrhage. We cannot concentrate all efforts on COVID19 and forget about some diseases that continue to attack our population.

Deaths from dengue are preventable, except for fulminating cases. Many deaths from dengue are consequences of an error, it may be the delay in seeking health care, the lack of access to the network, and the difficulty in identifying the seriousness of the cases.

The fight to stop the transmission of dengue requires a collective effort because it is transmitted by insects, and that is where exactly the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the great star of dengue, comes into play. The Aedes aegypti mosquito thrives in standing water. The female is responsible for carrying the dengue virus. In addition to dengue, this mosquito can transmit urban yellow fever, Zika, and Chikungunya.

dengue

Then, a patient with a high fever, retro-orbital pain, myalgia, prostration, headache, and maculopapular rash arrives and a recent trip to tropical regions (like Brazil!) … think, it could be dengue!

“As per WHO guideline 2009, dengue patients can be further categorized on the severity basis that includes severe dengue patients, dengue patients with few warning signs, and dengue patients with no warning signs. Dengue hemorrhagic fever which is most severe out of these three categories mainly occurs in 5% of total dengue patients”.(2)

Although there is a test called NS1 (viral antigen research) widely used in Brazil for the diagnosis of dengue, with a sensitivity of 70% and specificity of 95%, it is not a good test to rule out the suspicion of Dengue even if it comes negative – and this pattern is repeated in all the other methods like Viral Antigen Research (NS1), Genetic Amplification Test (RRT-PCR) and Tissue immunohistochemistry. It must be done until the 3rd day; after that, its accuracy drops a lot. Moreover, if the patient has had dengue before, its diagnostic value drops. (4)

Regardless of this issue of time, some tests valid for patients are blood count (presence of atypical lymphocytes and thrombocytopenia) and those that demonstrate organ dysfunction, such as TGO and TGP, urea and creatinine) to monitor the severity of the case and guide your treatment. Hemoconcentration, evidenced by the progressive increase in hematocrit (Ht) is the main laboratory finding in the identification of capillary leakage so it can show the severity of the patient.

Do not freak out! If your patient has no alarm signs and no special conditions, treatment can be done on an outpatient basis, advising the patient on the warning signs and the importance of hydration. There is no specific antiviral treatment available in the market yet. Generally, treatment includes the mechanism of controlling fever and pain with paracetamol rather than aspirin (aspirin may promote bleeding), and increasing fluid intake ³. (Look for the specific protocol of your country for the treatment of dengue). And avoid using medications that affect the coagulation cascade, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory and acetylsalicylic acid.

Staging and start hydrating!

You may be asking yourself, why do some people develop dengue more seriously and others don’t?

Halstead’s theory states that the disease is becoming more and more severe as the patient becomes infected with different serotypes of the causative virus.
The idea is that in the first infection, the organism can defend itself by producing a series of antibodies that are specific to that invading serotype. But if reinfection with another type of virus occurs, these antibodies may even bind to the pathogen, but they are not effective in stopping them. And this connection also favors the entry of viruses into cells, which enhances their multiplication and, consequently, the patient’s clinical condition.

This is the most accepted theory. There are others, such as the theory of multicausality, which claims the severity of the disease is associated with the interaction between several factors, ranging from the pathogen’s virulence to environmental conditions and also from the disease itself and patient being infected (such as previous comorbidities, age, among others).

Here in Brazil, we have a popular saying “It’s just a bug!”. We use it as a joke when we go to the doctor and he tells us: “it’s just a viral disease, go home, get hydrated and rest!” Yes, dengue is a viral disease. But it deserves special attention, as it can turn into a serious organ dysfunction if not treated properly !!

Cite this article as: Rebeca Rios, Brasil, "Is it just a viral disease?," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, June 29, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/06/29/is-it-just-a-viral-disease/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

References

  1. https://www1.folha.uol.com.br/cotidiano/2020/01/brasil-registra-em-2019-segundo-maior-numero-de-mortes-por-dengue-em-21-anos.shtml
  2. Giang HT, Banno K, Minh LH, Trinh LT, Loc LT, Eltobgy A, et al. Dengue hemophagocytic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis on epidemiology, clinical signs, outcomes, and risk factors. Rev Med Virol 2018; 28(6): e2005.  
  3. Rinku Rozera1, Surajpal Verma1, Ravi Kumar1, Anzarul Haque2, Anshul Attri1 Herbal remedies, vaccines and drugs for dengue fever: Emerging prevention and treatment strategies. Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Medicine. 2019
  4. CRUZ, Jaqueline. Avaliação de Testes Diagnósticos para a Identificação da Infecção pelo Vírus da Dengue em Pacientes com Síndrome Febril Aguda. Dissertação (Mestrado em Biotecnologia em Saúde e Medicina Investigativa) – Fundação Oswaldo Cruz, Salvador, 2014.
  5. Ministério da Saúde. Dengue: Diagnóstico e Manejo Clínico. 5a ed. Brasília: Ministério da Saúde, 2016.

COVID-19 Pandemic: Rural Preparations

Hoping for the best while preparing for the worst has been the theme of all medical institutes around the world, especially in counties that are yet to be hit by the dreaded tsunami of overwhelming COVID-19 cases. We have 191 positive cases 153 of which are in the hospital being treated and 33 have recovered. Fortunately, there have been no mortalities till date. [1] The current statistic may not look dreadful given the large numbers that we are exposed to daily these days. Before the cases reached 100, most Nepalese wondered, sometimes boastfully, why the cases are not spreading like wildfire. People went on record, crediting our culture of greeting with Namaste instead of a handshake, eating with hand instead of a spoon – which necessitates handwashing at least 4 times a day, the hygiene hypothesis, the fact that our country has only one international airport, and the universal coverage of BCG vaccination in Nepal. There are too many biases and heuristics at play here, but somewhere inside, I want to believe that at least some of them are true.

The Sukraraj Infectious and Tropical Disease Hospital (STIDH) in Teku, Kathmandu has been designated by the Government of Nepal (GoN) as the primary hospital along with Patan Hospital and the Armed Police Forces Hospital in the Kathmandu Valley. The Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP) has requested the 25 hubs and satellite hospital networks across the country – designated for managing mass casualty events – to be ready with infection prevention and control measures, and critical care beds where available. The Government is allocating spaces for quarantine purposes throughout the country and some sites have already been populated by migrants who recently returned from India. [2]

We have seen healthcare systems that are multi-fold advanced than that of our crumble when faced head-on with this illness. After working in the healthcare system of my country for 2 years, I am convinced that it will take a miracle for us to deal with this pandemic.

I have seen what preparations we are striving towards and what portion of it has been achieved. We are struggling to reach our preparation goals. That is not nearly as frustrating as the fact that many countries whose baseline was our goal have failed terribly. Today keeping the theme of workarounds rather than complaints about things outside of our circle of influence, I am presenting to you some preparatory works being done at Beltar PHC, a peripheral center located in one of the most affected districts, Udayapur, of Nepal. [1]

Credit, where credit is due: We have done 17878 RT-PCR, and 58546 RDT to find 191 positive cases till May 12, 2020. [1] We came up with a protocol and are also gradually updating it to meet the contemporary need. Funny word that contemporary is, especially now that no information gets to age before a new one replaces it. Speaking of temporary, a very recurring theme these days, there are temporary shelters made at every ward level in Beltar. People returning from abroad are kept in isolation for 14 days there. We run a temporary fever clinic at the PHC and refer suspected cases to higher centers for the COVID-19 test. We don’t have rapid diagnostic kits at the PHC yet. Our PHC with 26 staff has received 13 disposable PPEs that we have had the privilege of reusing. There is an Interim reporting form for suspected cases of COVID-19 (based on WHO Minimum Data Set Report Form) which can be downloaded and filled from the MOHP website. [3]

Available PPE at PHC level. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka
Fever clinic at Beltar PHC. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka
Quarantine setup at a ward in Chaudandigadi Municipality. Photo credit: Mr. Govinda Khadka

Lockdown was announced in Nepal on March 24, 2020. Excerpt from WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing [4] on COVID-19, 25 March 2020 says this: “Asking people to stay at home and shutting down population movement is buying time and reducing the pressure on health systems. But on their own, these measures will not extinguish epidemics. The point of these actions is to enable the more precise and targeted measures that are needed to stop transmission and save lives. We call on all countries who have introduced so-called “lockdown” measures to use this time to attack the virus. You have created a second window of opportunity. The question is, how will you use it? There are six key actions that we recommend:

  1. Expand, train and deploy your health care and public health workforce;
  2. Implement a system to find every suspected case at the community level;
  3. Ramp up the production, capacity, and availability of testing;
  4. Identify, adapt and equip facilities you will use to treat and isolate patients;
  5. Develop a clear plan and process to quarantine contacts;
  6. Refocus the whole of government on suppressing and controlling COVID-19.”

In Nepal, there has been documentation of protocol for various aspects of the pandemic; PPE for each level of care has been decided, need to scale up the testing recognized, and even the support for Solidarity trials discussed. The protocol designed to tackle COVID-19 recognizes that different strategies for the rural and urban areas are necessary. The response to outbreaks in remote and rural areas where containment may be easier though assistance more difficult vs. outbreak in urban locations where containment is likely more difficult, but treatment and assistance likely to be easier.

The mist of immediate threat followed by the rubble of destruction it causes keeps us blind to the problems lurking in the background. As big and dangerous, if not bigger. Especially when you know nothing even vaguely similar to CARES-Act is being prepared for dampening the direct and indirect economic impact of the epidemic. Add to the fact that the American government’s CARES-Act already faces various criticism—that gives birth to anxiety for even the most seasoned economists. That is looking at just one domain of the post epidemic future. Healthcare might be crippled, social structure tossed over, politics somersaulted and people stripped off their faith. That may give rise to a jigsaw too complicated to attempt. It is high time we start thinking about solving some of those puzzles now.

References

1. Corona Info. Ministry of Health and Population. Accessed May 12, 2020. https://covid19.mohp.gov.np/#/
2. COVID-19 Nepal preparedness and response plan (NPRP) draft. April 9. Accessed May 10, 2020. https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/nepal-documents/novel-coronavirus/covid-19-nepal-preparedness-and-response-plan-(nprp)-draft-april-9.pdf?sfvrsn=808a970a_2
3. Reporting form for COVID. Accessed May 12, 2020. http://edcd.gov.np/resources/download/reporting-form-for-covid
4. Situation reports on COVID-19 outbreak, 25 March 2020. WHO | Regional Office for Africa. Accessed May 12, 2020. https://www.afro.who.int/publications/situation-reports-covid-19-outbreak-25-march-2020

Cite this article as: Carmina Shrestha, Nepal, "COVID-19 Pandemic: Rural Preparations," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, May 25, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/05/25/covid-19-pandemic-rural-preparations/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

COVID19 Info for Medical Students

In our recent communication with Lecturio, we learned that they have a good set of free chapters and videos about COVID19. We would like to share with you.

Read from here – https://www.lecturio.com/covid-19-coronavirus-disease-2019/

List of videos here – https://www.lecturio.com/medical-courses/covid-19-overview-management.course#/

Free Videos From Lecturio

Coronavirus 2019

SARS and COVID19

Mortality Rate

Detection Bias

For more free COVID19 videos from Lecturio, please visit – https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLVnjTkEwv-uOxdymJaccUdT3LapvnrL61

You may want to read these posts in iEM too

Cite this article as: iEM Education Project Team, "COVID19 Info for Medical Students," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, April 3, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/04/03/covid19-info-for-medical-students/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

19 Questions and Answers on the COVID-19 Pandemic from a Emergency Medicine-based Perspective

covid 19 - from a Emergency Medicine-based Perspective

1) What is COVID-19?

Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is the disease caused by infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

2) What is SARS-CoV-2?

SARS-CoV-2 is a virus belonging to the Coronaviridae family. Spike proteins (S proteins) on the outer surface of SARS-CoV-2 are arranged in a way that resembles the appearance of a crown when viewed under an electron microscope (see Figure 1). S proteins facilitate viral entry into host cells by binding to the angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) host receptor. Several cell types express the ACE2 receptor, including lung alveoli cells. [1].

Morphology of the SARS-CoV-2
Figure 1 - Morphology of the SARS-CoV-2 viewed under an electron microscope.Note the spikes that adorn the outer surface of the virus, which impart the look of a corona surrounding the virion. (https://phil.cdc.gov/Details.aspx?pid=23312)

3) How is SARS-CoV-2 transmitted?

Viral particles can spread from person-to-person through airborne transmission (e.g., large droplets) or direct contact(e.g., touching, shaking hands). We have to remember that large droplets are particles with a diameter > 5 microns and that they can be spread by coughing, sneezing, talking, etc., so do not forget to wear full PPE in the Emergency Department (ED). Other potential routes of transmission are still being investigated.

4) What is the incubation time?

In humans, the incubation period of the SARS-CoV-2 varies from 4 days to 14 days, with a median of about 4 days [2].

5) Can we say the COVID-19 is like the seasonal flu?

No, we can’t say that. COVID-19 differs from the flu in several ways:

  • First of all, SARS-CoV-2 replicates in the lower respiratory tract at the level of the pulmonary alveoli (terminal alveoli). In contrast, Influenza viruses, the causative agents of the flu, replicate in the mucosa of the upper respiratory tract.
  • Secondly, SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus that has never met our adaptive immune system.
  • Thirdly, we do not currently have an approved vaccine to prevent infection by SARS-CoV-2.
  • Lastly, we do not currently have drugs of proven efficacy for the treatment of disease caused by SARS-CoV-2.

6) Who is at risk of contracting the COVID-19?

We are all susceptible to contracting the COVID-19, so it is essential that everyone respects the biohazard prevention rules developed by national and international health committees. Elderly persons, patients with comorbidities (e.g., diabetics, cancer, COPD, and CVD), and smokers appear to exhibit poor clinical outcome and greater mortality from COVID-19 [3]

7) What are the symptoms of the COVID-19?

There are four primary symptoms of COVID-19: feverdry coughfatigue; and shortness of breath (SOB).

Other symptoms are loss of appetite, muscle and joint pain, sore throat, nasal congestion and runny nose, headache, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, anosmia, and dysgeusia.

8) What is the severity of symptoms from COVID-19?

In most cases, COVID-19 mild or moderate symptoms, so much so it can resolve after two weeks of rest at home. However, onset of severe viral pneumonia requires hospital admission.

9) Which COVID-19 patients we should admit to the hospital?

The onset of severe viral pneumonia requires hospital admission. COVID-19-associated pneumonia can quickly evolve into respiratory failure, resulting in decreased gas exchange and the onset of hypoxia (we can already detect this deterioration in gas exchange with a pulse oximeter at the patient’s home). This clinical picture can rapidly further evolve into ARDS and severe multi-organ failure.

The use of the PSI/PORT score (or even the MuLBSTA score, although this score needs to be validated) can help us in the hospital admission decision-making process.

10) Do patients with COVID-19 exhibit laboratory abnormalities?

Most patients exhibit lymphocytopenia [11], an increase in prothrombin time, procalcitonin (> 0.5 ng/mL), and/or LDH (> 250 U/L).

11) Are there specific tests that allow us to diagnose COVID-19?

RT-PCR is a specific test that currently appears to have high specificity but not very high sensitivity [12]. We can obtain material for this test from nasopharyngeal swabs, tracheal aspirates of intubated patients, sputum, and bronchoalveolar lavages (BAL). However, the latter two procedures increase the risk of contagion.

However, since rapid tests are not yet available, RT-PCR results may take days to obtain, since laboratory activity can quickly saturate during epidemics. Furthermore, poor pharyngeal swabbing technique or sampling that occurs during the early stage of COVID-19 can lead to further decreased testing sensitivity.

Consequently, for the best patient care, we must rely on clinical symptoms, labs, and diagnostic imaging (US, CXR, CT). The use of a diagnostic flowchart can be useful (see Figure 2).

diagnostic flow chart
Figure 2 - A possible diagnostic flow chart for an ill patient admitted to hospital with suspected COVID-19 (from EMCrit Blog)

12) Can lung ultrasound help diagnose COVID-19?

Yes, it can help! The use of POCUS lung ultrasound is a useful method both in diagnosis and in real-time monitoring of the COVID-19 patient.

In addition, we could monitor the patient not only in the emergency department (ED) or intensive care unit (ICU), but also in a pre-hospital setting, such as in the home of a patient who is in quarantine.

In fact, POCUS lung ultrasounds not only allows one to anticipate further complications such as lung consolidation from bacterial superinfection or pneumothorax, but it also allows detection of viral pneumonia at the early stages. Furthermore, the use of a high-frequency ultrasound probe, which is an adoption of the 12-lung areas method [4] and the portable ultrasound (they are easily decontaminated), allow this method to be repeatable, inexpensive, easy to transport, and radiation-free.

There are no known pathognomonic patterns of COVID-19.

The early stages COVID-19 pneumonia results in peripheral alveolar damage including alveolar edema and a proteinaceous exudate [5]. This interstitial syndrome can be observed via ultrasound by the presence of scattered B lines in a single intercostal space (see videos below).

Subsequently, COVID-19 pneumonia progression leads to what’s called “white lung”, which ultrasound represents as converging B lines that cover the entire area of the intercostal space; they start from the pleura to end at the bottom of the screen.

Finally, the later stages of this viral pneumonia lead to “dry lung”, which consists of a pattern of small consolidations (< 1 cm) and subpleural nodules. Unlike bacterial foci of infection, these consolidations do not create a Doppler signal within the lesions. We should consider the development from “white lung” to “dry lung” as an unfavorable evolution of the disease.[6]

(the 5 videos above come from the COVID-19 gallery on the Butterflynetwork website)

13) Can CXR/CT help us in the diagnosis of COVID-19?

Yes, it can help! There are essentially three patterns we observed in COVID-19.

In the early stages, the main pattern is ground-glass opacity (GGO)[7]. Ground glass opacity is represented at the lung bases with a peripheral distribution (see videos below) .

The second pattern is constituted by consolidations, which unlike ground-glass opacity, determine a complete “opacification” of the lung parenchyma. The greater the extent of consolidations, the greater the severity and the possibility of admission in ICU.

The third pattern is called crazy paving[8]. It is caused by the thickening of the pulmonary lobular interstitium.

However, we should consider four things when we do a CXR/CT exam. First, many patients, especially in the elderly, exhibit multiple, simultaneously occurring pathologies, so it is possible to clinically observe nodular effusions, lymph node enlargements, and pleural effusions that are not typical of COVID-19 pneumonia. Secondly, we have to be aware that other types of viral pneumonia can also cause GGO, so they cannot be excluded during the diagnostic process. Thirdly, imaging can help evaluate the extent of the disease and alternative diagnoses, but we cannot use it exclusively for diagnosis. Lastly, we should carefully assess the risk of contagion from transporting these patients to the CT room.

14) What is the treatment for this type of patient?

COVID-19 patients quickly become hypoxic without many symptoms (apparently due to “silent” atelectasis). Therapy for these clinical manifestations is resuscitation and support therapy. In patients with mild respiratory insufficiency, oxygen therapy is adopted. In severe patients in which respiratory mechanics are compromised, non-invasive ventilation (NIV) or invasive ventilation should be adopted.

15) How can we non-invasively manage the airways of patients with COVID-19?

In the presence of a virus epidemic, we should remember that all the procedures that generate aerosolization (e.g., NIV, HFNC, BMV, intubation, nebulizers) are high-risk procedures.

Among the non-invasive oxygenation methods, the best-recommended solution is to have patients wear both a high-flow nasal cannula (HFNC) and a surgical mask[9]. Still, we should also consider using CPAP with a helmet interface. Furthermore, we should avoid the administration of medications through nebulization or utilize metered-dose inhalers with spacer (Figure 3).

Figure 3 – General schema for Respiratory Support in Patients with COVID-19 (from PulmCrit Blog)

16) How can we invasively manage the airways of patients with COVID-19?

We should intubate as soon as possible, even in non-critical conditions (Figure 3). Intubation is a high contagion risk procedure. As a result, we should adopt the highest levels of precaution[10]. To be more precise:

  • As healthcare operator, we should wear full PPE. Only the most skilled person at intubation in the staff should intubate. Furthermore we should consider using a video laryngoscope. Last but not least, we should ensure the correct positioning of the endotracheal tube without a stethoscope (link HERE).
  • The room where intubation occurs should be a negative pressure room. When that is not feasible, the room should have doors closed during the intubation procedure.
  • The suction device  should have a closed-circuit so as not to generate aerosolization outside.
  • Preoxygenation should be done using means that do not generate aerosols. Let us remember that HFNC and BVM both can generate aerosolization. So, it is important to remember to turn off the flow of the HFNC before removing it from the patient face to minimize the risk and to use a two-handed grip when using BVM, interposing an antiviral filter between the BVM and resuscitation bag and ventilating gently.
  • Intubation drugs that do not cause coughing should be used. In addition, we should evaluate the use of Rocuronium in the Rapid Sequence Intubation (RSI) since it has a longer half-life compared to succinylcholine and thus prevents the onset of coughing or vomiting.

In conclusion, let us remember that intubation, extubation, bronchoscopy, NIV, CPR prior to intubation, manual ventilation etc. produce aerosolization of the virus, therefore, it is necessary that we wear full PPE.

17) What is the drug therapy for COVID-19?

Currently, there is no validated drug therapy for COVID-19. Some drugs are currently under study. They include Remdesivir (blocks RNA-dependent RNA polymerase), Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine (both block the entry of the virus into the endosome), Tocilizumab and Siltuximab (both block IL-6).

18) Is there a vaccine available for COVID-19?

No, there is still no vaccine currently available to the public.

19) What precautions should we take with COVID-19 infected patients?

As healthcare professionals, we should wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) and know how to wear them (“DONning”) and how to remove them properly (“DOFFing”) (see video below). Furthermore, we should wear full PPE for the entire shift and when in contact with patients with respiratory problems.

Resources on COVID-19

Cite this article as: Francesco Adami, Italy, "19 Questions and Answers on the COVID-19 Pandemic from a Emergency Medicine-based Perspective," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 27, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/03/27/19-questions-and-answers-on-the-covid-19/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

References

[1] Zheng YY, Ma YT, Zhang JY, Xie X. COVID-19 and the cardiovascular system. NatRev Cardiol. 2020 Mar 5.

[2] del Rio C, Malani PN. COVID-19—New Insights on a Rapidly Changing Epidemic. JAMA. Published online February 28, 2020. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.3072

[3] Yee J et al. Novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19): Emergence and Implications for Emergency Care. Infectious Disease 2020. https://doi.org/10.1002/emp2.12034

[4] Belaïd Bouhemad, Silvia Mongodi, Gabriele Via, Isabelle Rouquette; Ultrasound for “Lung Monitoring” of Ventilated Patients. Anesthesiology 2015;122(2):437-447. doi: https://doi.org/10.1097/ALN.0000000000000558.

[5] Qian-Yi Peng, Xiao-Ting Wang, Li-Na Zhang & Chinese Critical Care Ultrasound Study Group (CCUSG). Findings of lung ultrasonography of novel corona virus pneumonia during the 2019–2020 epidemic. 12 March 2020 Intensive Care Medicine.

[6]  Chan JF, Yuan S, Kok KH, et al. A familial cluster of pneumonia associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus indicating person-to-person transmission: a study of a family cluster. Lancet 2020.

[7] Chest CT Findings in Cases from the Cruise Ship “Diamond Princess” with Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

[8] Radiographic and CT Features of Viral Pneumonia Hyun Jung Koo, Soyeoun Lim, Jooae Choe, Sang-Ho Choi, Heungsup Sung, and Kyung-Hyun Do RadioGraphics 2018 38:3, 719-739 doi: https://doi.org/10.1148/rg.2018170048

[9]  WHO – Clinical management of severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) when COVID-19 disease is suspected.

[10] Safe Airway Society. Consensus Statement: Safe Airway Society Principles of Airway management and Tracheal Intubation Specific to the COVID-19 Adult Patient Group. MJA 2020.

[11] GUAN WJ, Ni ZY, Hu Y, Liang WH, et al  Clinical Characteristics of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in China. N Engl J Med. 2020 Feb 28. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa2002032

[12] Tao Ai et al. Correlation of Chest CT and RT-PCR Testing in Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in China: A Report of 1014 Cases. Radiology, published online February 26, 2020; doi: 10.1148/radiol.2020200642

COVID-19 vs Influenza: A Diagnostic Dilemma

covid 19 vs influenza

During the last two months, the world experienced an outbreak of what was known to be an unknown yet contagious virus, The Coronavirus, namely COVID-19. News circulated about the virus being spread in China, and the number of people affected increased daily. While there was panic in China, other parts of the world were alert and anticipating a few occurrences, but definitely not as much as the situation is today.

Eventually, as the numbers increased, number of hospital staff who started wearing masks and taking necessary precautions increased, anticipating the arrival of the disease into their regions, until a few days later, there was news of the virus being spread to different countries, new cases emerging from different parts of the world, the case fatality rate rising, infection control rules became stricter and this was the start of what has lead the COVID-19 to be announced as a pandemic by the World Health Organization.

While researches are being conducted, treatments are being tested, one of the biggest dilemmas physicians are facing, is to differentiate between Coronavirus and Flu caused by Influenza virus. The latter being a more known and common cause of flu during the winter months.

When news of the coronavirus created alarm in the general public, there was an influx of patients in the Emergency Departments all around the world, most of them being travelers with flu symptoms and airport staff. Since little was known about the virus then, standard infection control protocols were applied as a general rule until a diagnosis and the severity of illness was sought.This created another issue, could this be seasonal flu, or was it Corona? The decision was harder amongst people in extremes of age. When the disease had just been discovered, testing and results took time and little was known, unlike what the situation is today where countries such as South Korea are offering drive-through tests, with results within 24 hours.

This added to the importance of knowing the differences and similarities between the two to provide adequate management and treatment.

Similarities

  1. Transmitted by contact, droplets and fomites.
  2. Both require precautions such as good hand and respiratory hygiene
  3. Both cause mild to severe respiratory illness
  4. People are commonly affected in winter

Differences

  1. Influenza virus has additional symptoms such as muscle aches and fatigue whereas COVID-19 can present with diarrhea
  2. Influenza has a shorter incubation period as compared to COVID-19 (2-14 days)
  3. According to current data, children, women and elderly are more affected by influenza, whereas COVID-19 causes more severe illness in the elderly and those who are immunocompromised and those suffering from underlying medical conditions
  4. COVID-19 is being known to have a higher mortality rate as compared to influenza
  5. Annual vaccines and antiviral agents are effective against influenza, and there is currently no proven treatment for COVID-19
  6. People who have flu caused by influenza are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after contacting the illness

Overview of the COVID- 19

It belongs to the family of Coronaviruses, which may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). COVID-19 is the newest type discovered in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.

Method of transmission: is respiratory droplets from the nose or mouth of a person who is infected by the virus (coughs/sneezes within 1 meter).
Incubation period: 1-14 days

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea. Around 1 out of every six people who get COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Diagnosis: Nasopharyngeal swab, sputum culture
Chest Xray and CT: Bilateral chest infiltrates, consolidation (pneumonia)
Treatment: Symptomatic until a proven treatment is discovered.

Prevention

The four essential steps:
W – wash hands
A – avoid physical contact and public places
S – sterilize and sanitize regularly
H – hygiene is essential.

Cover your nose or mouth with your bent elbow or tissue while sneezing and dispose of the used tissue immediately.

Wear a mask when you have symptoms of flu to prevent spreading the illness.

Cite this article as: Sumaiya Hafiz, UAE, "COVID-19 vs Influenza: A Diagnostic Dilemma," in International Emergency Medicine Education Project, March 25, 2020, https://iem-student.org/2020/03/25/covid-19-vs-influenza/, date accessed: April 21, 2021

References