While we are used to the clinical impact and disruption flu causes annually, the current Coronavirus remains a high concern and unpredictable impact with significant media attention. At the time of writing there have been 73,000 cases of Covid-19 worldwide, with a death toll of 1,868 to date. The fatality rate is thought to be about 2% affecting the vulnerable. To keep it in perspective, influenza leads to about 3-5 million cases of severe illness a year with approximately 290,009 to 650,000 respiratory deaths worldwide during an annual epidemic. This is a similar mortality rate, amongst the same at risk groups.
Both viruses have a similar transmission through droplet spread or direct hand to mouth contract. It is therefore reassuring to know that basic hand hygiene remains paramount in the effective reduction of transmission of both viruses. The Covid-19 virus also has a lipid envelope and therefore a wide range of disinfectants are effective at cleaning and decontaminating clinical environments. Standard PPE including surgical masks help to reduce the risk of healthcare workers contracting influenza. However since the Covid-19 outbreak has been classified as a Public Heath Emergency, the UK legislation requires employers to provide fitted FFP3 masks to protect against contamination with Covid-19. FFP3 masks are only effective on clean shaven faces as facial hair prevents the creation of an effective mask seal. The current concern with the spread of Covid-19 has lead to a high global demand for face masks and face shields and a reduced availability. Dental suppliers are now limiting the purchase volume of all face masks to general practice, which could potentially compromise the provision of dental services. The true impact of Covid-19 and our ability to reduce transmission, may only be apparent at the time of reading this article.
BAOS Council Member