Researchers Assess Concern Among Healthcare Workers Regarding MERS Outbreaks in Saudi Arabia

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is caused by MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). More than 80 percent of reported cases have occurred in Saudi Arabia, with a mortality exceeding 50 percent. Healthcare workers (HCWs) are at risk of acquiring and transmitting this virus, so the concerns of HCWs in Saudi Arabia regarding MERS were evaluated in a study by Abolfotouh, et al. (2017).

An anonymous, self-administered, previously validated questionnaire was given to 1031 HCWs at three tertiary hospitals in Saudi Arabia from October to December 2014. Concerns regarding the disease, its severity and governmental efforts to contain it, as well as disease outcomes were assessed using 31 concern statements in five distinct domains. A total concern score was calculated for each HCW. Multiple regression analyses were used to identify predictors of high concern scores.

The average age of participants was 37.1 ± 9.0 years, 65.8 percent were married and 59.1 percent were nurses. The majority of respondents (70.4 percent) felt at risk of contracting a MERS-CoV infection at work, 69.1 percent felt threatened if a colleague contracted MERS-CoV, 60.9 percent felt obliged to care for patients infected with MERS-CoV and 87.8 percent did not feel safe at work using standard precautions. In addition, 87.7 percent believed that the government should isolate patients with MERS in specialized hospitals, 73.7 percent agreed with travel restriction to and from areas affected by MERS and 65.3 percent agreed with avoiding inviting expatriates from such areas. After adjustment for covariates, high concern scores were significantly associated with being a Saudi national (p < 0.001), a non-physician (p < 0.001) and working in the central region (p < 0.001).

The researchers conclude that the majority of respondents reported concern regarding MERS-CoV infection from exposure at work. The overall level of concern may be influenced by previous experience of MERS outbreaks and related cultural issues. The concerns of HCWs may affect their overall effectiveness in an outbreak and should be addressed by incorporating management strategies in outbreak planning.

Reference: Abolfotouh MA, et al. An assessment of the level of concern among hospital-based health-care workers regarding MERS outbreaks in Saudi Arabia. BMC Infectious Diseases. 2017;17:4