COVID-19 – what have we learned?

I did a talk at an IPC conference the other day trying to summarise what we’ve learned from the COVID-19 pandemic. You can see my slides here. I think (hope) we have learned a lot – and still have more to learn – about (in no particular order): PPE, transmission routes, testing and laboratory factors, vaccination, organizational transformation, guidelines and policy development, regulatory framework, outbreaks, non-COVID pathogens, antimicrobial stewardship, digital transformation, applied research, and the mental health of our workforce.

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A plea to stay away from work if you’re ill

I have a confession. A few years ago I came to work when I was ill. Not desperately ill – but clammy-stay-in-bed-didn’t-want-to-ride-my-bike ill. Ill enough to stay away from work. But I was really busy and had loads to do. Working from home wasn’t really an option back then – you know, in the days when meetings were mainly face-to-face. Sure, you could dial in. But people often forgot you were there and couldn’t really hear you properly when you said something. So, I came to work. It was just before Christmas. And my gift to my office-sharer was a really nasty respiratory virus for Christmas.

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Influenza among afebrile and vaccinated HCWs

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Influenza is considered to contribute to the morbidity and mortality of our patients and during the flu season, some estimate that as many as 1 in 5 patients contract nosocomial influenza; via infected HCWs.

After having had close and personal experience with influenza last season I do have a better understanding for some things.

  1. You don’t want influenza if you can avoid it!
  2. I fully understand while you wish your worst enemies to have an inflammation of their pleura (Dutch saying: “Go and have pleuritis”) – it really, really hurts – A LOT.
  3. Flu vaccination programs for HCWs and guidelines preventing febrile HCWs to work may be a pretty smart idea! Or not?

In a recent study, Ridgway et al. had a look at the validity of “febrile” as an indicator of having influenza. After screening 449 HCWs with respiratory symptoms, they found a total of 41 (9.1%) with proven influenza. Only half of the HCWs actually were febrile, with no significant differences between vaccinated and non-vaccinated HCWs.

Thus, while we should continue to vaccinate our HCWs (in my opinion, not part of the article) and hope for a match of the vaccine with the circulating virus, the practice to only look for influenza in febrile HCWs needs to be reconsidered.


Ridgway JP, Bartlett AH, Garcia-Houchins S, Cariño S, Enriquez A, Marrs R, Perez C, Shah M, Guenette C, Mosakowski S, Beavis KG, Landon E. Influenza among afebrile and vaccinated healthcare workers. Clin Infect Dis. 2015 Jun 1;60(11):1591-5.