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Study shows which procedures put health care providers at biggest risk of contracting COVID-19

The goal of the study is to prioritize safety and protection for medical professionals

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A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry explored how certain medical procedures could put health care providers at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19

According to their findings, any procedure that creates aerosols is a cause for concern because these small particles cling to the air and can carry infections across large, contained spaces. The researchers explained that more extensive protective equipment is necessary to protect medical professionals from the virus. 

“What we sought to do was to understand which procedures generate aerosols and therefore require a higher grade of personal protective equipment,” said researcher Sebastian Straube. “Where there is 80 percent agreement from a number of different source documents, we are reasonably confident that, yes, the classification of these procedures as aerosol-generating is accurate.” 

What are the biggest risks?

The researchers analyzed nearly 130 medical journals and databases to understand how medical procedures are classified based on the levels of aerosols that they generate. Though they did run into some issues because of how procedures are officially classified, they did learn that several medical procedures require more than the average amount of protective equipment. 

Their work revealed that many procedures that involve breathing or resuscitation generate the most aerosols, and this was agreed upon by the overwhelming majority of the sources. This includes things like intubation, tracheostomies, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), among several others. Performing autopsies was also included in this category. 

However, not all of the sources categorized every procedure in the same way. In terms of generating aerosols, procedures like dental work and endoscopies weren’t always considered to pose that great of a risk. The researchers hope their work can help spur changes that will better protect health care workers.

“We are providing a summary of the evidence to inform policy-making decisions and guideline development,” Straube said. “[Personal protective equipment] is typically displayed at the bottom rung of the hierarchy of hazard controls. Elimination of the hazard or substitution as well as engineering and administrative approaches to hazard control should also be considered.” 

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