As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, the gastroenterology community is learning more about this virus every day. In addition, we are learning the best ways to prevent virus transmission and protect GI endoscopy and clinic practices.
Signs and Symptoms of COVID-19
The most common signs and symptoms of COVID-19 are coughs, sore throats, fatigue and fevers, along with reported instances of GI symptoms such as nausea and/or diarrhea. While the virus can be spread via respiratory droplets, asymptomatic spread can occur during the incubation period, ranging from zero to 14 days (average of 5 days).
Protection against Virus Transmission
Populations who are most vulnerable to COVID-19 include the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions. Those who are immunocompromised and/or have severe chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, have greater risk of developing a more severe illness. For those who are vulnerable, please maintain social distancing measures and avoid large crowds.
To prevent further transmission, please wash your hands frequently, while following proper hand washing protocols. Hand washing should be done with soap and the CDC recommends scrubbing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Despite having clean hands, avoid touching your face to prevent transmission of germs from your hands into your body. Lastly, if you need to cough or sneeze, please cover your mouth and nose with tissue. If that is not possible, please cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve. Of course, remember to wash your hands after!
Preventative Measures for GI Endoscopy and Clinic Practices
There are several preventative measures which can be established to keep GI endoscopy and clinic practices safe.
- Assess whether an elective endoscopic procedure is urgent or non-urgent. Reschedule non-urgent elective procedures or consider remote office visits via telemedicine, if possible.
- Pre-screen all patients for potential COVID-19 exposure, including history of respiratory symptoms or fever, travel to high-risk areas and contact with any confirmed cases of COVID-19. Recommend those in potential risk of having COVID-19 to postpone their appointment. The clinic can follow up with patients 7-14 days after to ask about any development of symptoms or diagnosis of COVID-19.
- Ensure appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is worn at all times by endoscopy staff, such as gloves, face masks, eye shields and gowns. Knowledge of how to use and dispose of PPE appropriately should be reinforced, and PPE should be conserved.
- Keep all patients at least six feet from each other and check their body temperatures upon arrival.
Following the above recommendations and other CDC guidelines will help manage the health and safety of the community as this situation evolves.
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