Coronavirus: Two NHS medics on ventilators after contracting COVID-19 from patients

March 21, 2020

Two NHS ear, nose and throat consultants are receiving critical care after contracting coronavirus from infected UK patients.  

The ENT medics are on ventilators and "most likely" acquired the highly contagious respiratory infection from people who did not show any symptoms in the course of their daily clinical work.

Professor Nirmal Kumar, consultant otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon, said the nose was main entry point for the virus when we breathe in droplets infected with coronavirus.

He told Sky News: "We sadly have two consultants (ENT) who are on ventilators in this country and most likely having acquired the infection from passive (asymptomatic) carriers in the course of their daily clinical work.

"We are in strong support of the prime minister's request for social distancing and also recommend that full PPE (personal protective equipment) is made available for those clinicians dealing with such work and in close contact with patients."

The British Association of Otorhinolaryngology (ENT UK) said that asymptomatic patients - ones who do not have a fever or a cough - could show a loss of smell or taste as symptoms after contracting coronavirus.

It said in a statement: "Evidence from other countries that the entry point for the coronavirus is often in the eyes, nose and throat areas.

"We have also identified a new symptom (loss of sense of smell and taste) that may mean that people without other symptoms but with just the loss of this sense may have to self-isolate - again to reduce the spread of the virus."

In the wake of the new symptoms, ENT UK have also requested for full personal protective equipment (PPE) be distributed to frontline staff that examine patients up close.

Professor Kumar added: "At the present time PPE is available only in limited quantities and will be reserved for use only when patients presenting as emergencies show up."

The organisation recommends that routine clinical work in ENT is avoided until the coronavirus pandemic has passed or until it has sufficient PPE so as to reduce the spread of the virus in the community.

"We need to flatten the curve", Prof Kumar said.

He added: "In young patients, they do not have any significant symptoms such as the cough and fever, but they may have just the loss of sense of smell and taste, which suggests that these viruses are lodging in the nose."

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Current Public Health England guidelines says that a high temperature or new continuous cough are the only symptoms to trigger self-isolation and stop the spread of COVID-19.

Dr Nathalie MacDermott, clinical lecturer at King's College London said infections that normally occur through the "nose or the back of the throat" often lead to loss in sense of smell and taste, but cautioned that research around the new symptoms for COVID-19 isn't yet widespread in the medical community.

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