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Study: Healthcare workers may have reduced risk for severe COVID-19

Healthcare workers are less likely than non-healthcare workers to have more severe COVID-19 infection or need for ICU treatment, but have the same risk for mechanical ventilation and death, according to a new study. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Healthcare workers are less likely than non-healthcare workers to have more severe COVID-19 infection or need for ICU treatment, but have the same risk for mechanical ventilation and death, according to a new study. File Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 28 (UPI) -- Healthcare workers sickened with COVID-19 appear to have a much lower risk for more severe disease, at least based on some indicators, according to a study published Thursday by JAMA Network Open.

Compared with non-healthcare workers, frontline caregivers who tested positive for the new coronavirus were 44% less likely to require treatment in a hospital intensive care unit, the data showed.

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They also were 47% less likely to have a total hospital stay lasting longer than seven days as they fought off infection.

The differences in health outcomes following infection may be the result of proper use of personal protective equipment while on the job, researchers said.

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"Healthcare worker status was not associated with poorer outcomes among hospitalized patients with COVID-19," study co-author Dr. Nauzer Forbes told UPI.

"In fact, it was associated with a shorter length of hospitalization and a reduced likelihood of intensive care unit admission," said Forbes, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Calgary in Canada.

However, the healthcare workers in the study had the same risk for death from COVID-19 as non-healthcare workers, according to the researchers.

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They were also just as likely to require mechanical ventilation for breathing support, the researchers said.

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"Hospitalized healthcare workers with COVID-19 experienced similar odds of requiring mechanical ventilation or dying compared to matched non-healthcare workers," Forbes said.

"It is unclear exactly why this is, but one theory is that adequate and properly employed PPE reduces the initial dose of virus at the time of exposure," he said.

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Nearly 300,000 healthcare workers have been sickened with COVID-19 in the United States since the start of the pandemic, and more than 3,000 have died as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Globally, more than 4 million have been infected with the virus, although the United States is believed to have the most cases among healthcare workers, research suggests.

For this study, Forbes and his colleagues compared health outcomes in 127 front-line healthcare workers with confirmed cases of COVID-19 from 36 facilities in the United States and Canada to those of 366 non-healthcare workers.

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The two groups were matched based on age and other factors, such as overall health, and all participants had been hospitalized due to severe COVID-19, the researchers said.

Despite the difference in need for ICU care and shorter hospital stays, about 34% of participants in both groups required mechanical ventilation, the data showed.

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And risk for death in both groups was 53%, the researchers said.

"Given that healthcare workers are at increased risk of contracting the virus, it is crucial that [those] facing potential exposure to COVID-19 through their workplace have adequate protection," Forbes said.

"This includes properly employed PPE and access to COVID-19 vaccines," he said.

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