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Half of Italian healthcare workers experienced PTSD during COVID-19 outbreak

Participants hold symbolic candles as nurses, elected officials and community members come together to commemorate the final day of Nurses Week with a vigil in Yonkers, N.Y., on May 12. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
Participants hold symbolic candles as nurses, elected officials and community members come together to commemorate the final day of Nurses Week with a vigil in Yonkers, N.Y., on May 12. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

May 28 (UPI) -- Nearly half of front-line healthcare workers treating patients with COVID-19 in Italy have experienced symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder during the outbreak there, according to a study published Thursday by JAMA Network Open.

Almost 25 percent of workers suffered from depression and roughly 20 percent reported symptoms of anxiety as the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, continued to spread, researchers said.

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These symptoms, however, weren't a direct result of the virus. Researchers said they come from the burden it placed on Italy's healthcare system.

"Health workers are experiencing mental health issues because the pandemic as a whole has seriously challenged the Italian healthcare system, which in turn has not been able to provide a 'mentally safe' working environment for health workers," co-author Rodolfo Rossi, an epidemiologist at the University of Rome Tor Vergata in Italy, told UPI.

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"To a certain extent, the working conditions for the healthcare workforce may be compared to a front-line war scenario," he said.

To date, Italy has more than 230,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 33,000 people in that country have died from the virus, JHU researchers reported.

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Only the United States and Britain have seen more deaths caused by the new coronavirus. Most of the confirmed cases and deaths in Italy occurred in the northern part of the country, primarily in the Lombardy region.

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For their research, Rossi and his colleagues surveyed 1,379 healthcare workers in Italy in late March, the peak of the outbreak there. The majority of respondents were physicians and nurses working as front-line care providers.

In addition to high rates of PTSD, depression and anxiety symptoms, more than 8 percent of respondents reported experiencing insomnia and nearly 22 percent said they suffered from "high perceived stress," the researchers reported.

Among healthcare workers, researchers found women were more than twice as likely to experience symptoms of PTSD or depression, while risk for severe insomnia was twice as high for nurses and healthcare assistants.

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Healthcare workers with colleagues who died from COVID-19 also were more than twice as likely to experience symptoms of PTSD or depression.

"The healthcare system should put in action a number of potential interventions concerning safety in the workplace, including less exhausting shifts, a more effective prevention system for COVID-19 infections and hiring a higher number of healthcare workers," Rossi said.

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