Cancer patients cleared after hospital worker infection

 

CANCER patients at Cairns Hospital have been assured they are not at risk of COVID-19 transmission from an infected pathology worker after the first batch of contact-tracing test results came back.

Health authorities have launched an extensive effort to track down anyone who may have come in contact with a Queensland Pathology lab worker at the hospital who tested positive for the deadly virus last week.

The results of the first batch of 81 tests all came back negative - although with about 270 potential contacts to be investigated, transmission cannot be ruled out yet.

The Cairns Hospital emergency department. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
The Cairns Hospital emergency department. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

The Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service (CHHHS) had reason to be especially cautious, even beyond the public health risks inherent in any coronavirus infection.

The Queensland Pathology laboratory is on the second floor of the hospital's Block E, above the Liz Plummer Cancer Care Centre.

Fortunately, the early results give reason for optimism.

CHHHS Tropical Public Health Services director Dr Richard Gair said the infected pathology worker had no contact with patients, including cancer patients.

"The laboratory has very strict protocols for infection control," he said.

Director of Tropical Public Health, Cairns Dr Richard Gair. Picture: Josh Woning.
Director of Tropical Public Health, Cairns Dr Richard Gair. Picture: Josh Woning.

"The contact tracing associated with the pathology worker does not include any patients."

The health service is contacting people deemed most at risk of transmission and will identify if quarantine is necessary.

"Those staff who are required to quarantine are all being tested for COVID-19," Dr Gair said.

"Anyone whose tests results are negative is still required to quarantine for 14 days from their last date of entry into the pathology laboratory.

"Other people who spent time in the laboratory between March 19 to April 17 will also need to be assessed, although there is a low risk of transmission. These people are asked to please email Tropical Public Health Services with their name, phone number, when they visited the laboratory, and for how long, to EOC_TRS_CNS@health.qld.gov.au."

There were no new confirmed coronavirus cases yesterday for Cairns.

The region's COVID-19 count remained at 33 total cases, only five of which were active, with 28 recoveries and no deaths.

Cairns MP Michael Healy said the figures showed social distancing measures were working and urged residents not to drop the ball.

Member for Cairns Michael Healy in front of the Cairns Hospital Emergency Department. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE
Member for Cairns Michael Healy in front of the Cairns Hospital Emergency Department. PICTURE: BRENDAN RADKE

"The key thing we need to see is our numbers continuing to go south," he said.

"We've got teams of people working on what Queensland is going to look like when we come out of all this.

"We are all looking forward to getting through this but the priority still has to be to identify, isolate, and kill the virus."

Cairns Hospital staff received a memo over the weekend saying the deep terminal clean of the laboratory was complete and usual pathology processes had resumed on Saturday.

"Although the pathology laboratory is reopening, it will be operating with reduced staff and also sending less urgent samples to other laboratories," it continued.

"Pathology Queensland advises it expects to return to 'business as usual' levels within a few days and have asked for your continued understanding."

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said there was no risk to people who had received blood products from the laboratory. More results are expected over coming days.

Originally published as Cancer patients cleared after Cairns hospital worker infection


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