Victorian health authorities are trying to contact about 70 patients of a Melbourne doctor who has developed coronavirus after returning from the US
The doctor is the state’s 11th case of the novel coronavirus and the state health minister, Jenny Mikakos, says he attended work and treated patients after her was symptomatic.
“I have to say I am flabbergasted that a doctor that has flulike symptoms has presented to work,” Mikakos said.
“He became unwell with a runny nose on an internal flight from Denver to San Francisco on February 27, US time, then flew to from San Francisco to Melbourne on United Airlines flight UA60, arriving at approximately 9.30am Saturday 29 February.”
The doctor saw approximately 70 patients last week between Monday 2 March and Friday 6 March at the Toorak Clinic on Malvern Road. The clinic has been since closed.
Patients have been contacted by text message, phone or email and two patients the doctor treated in a Malvern nursing home have been isolated.
All patients the doctor saw and all clinic staff have been asked to self-isolate for 14 days. The clinic’s other patients have been asked to monitor their symptoms.
“Our advice to the community is that if you have returned from overseas and are experiencing cold or flulike symptoms than please stay home, do not go to work, you should self isolate until such time as you are able to be presenting to a doctor, getting medical advice about whether you potentially have Covid-19,” Mikakos said.
“I understand our medical and healthcare workers are dedicated to the work they do. It is incredibly important work and they are absolutely committed to their patients and I understand, particularly at this time of, I guess, an international health emergency, that all healthcare workers would be wanting to assist their patients. But it is irresponsible for people to be going to work if they are unwell, and that is not just healthcare workers, it is everybody in the community who needs to take this very seriously.”
She said the doctor’s symptoms were mild, as 80% of coronavirus cases had been globally, but that his decision to continue to treat patients was something for the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency to pursue.
“It is very important that what may present as a mild case is still taken seriously, because we know this is a disease, a virus that is easily transmitting in the community, as we have seen from the fact that we now have more than 100,000 cases internationally, and it is important that we are all alive to the risks.”
Passengers on the flight with the doctor would also be contacted, Mikakos said, but added there were no other public exposure sites for the case.
The minister urged those who believed they may have been on the flight to call the 1800 657 398 hotline.
She said Victoria had not yet had a case of community transmission of Covid-19.
Victoria’s chief medical officer, Dr Brett Sutton, urged people to get tested immediately if they suspected they had coronavirus rather than going to work with cold-like symptoms.
“We have all done [that] in the past. We are now at the stage with this illness that we have a particular obligation, and we have a particular obligation as healthcare workers, to exclude ourselves until we can assure a patients that we are not a risk to them,” he said.
“We can turn test around within 24 hours, so you should not feel shy about getting tested so you can reassure yourself about returning to work.”
Mikakos said the Doherty Institute in Melbourne was working to develop a 20-minute pin-prick diagnostic test for the disease. However she said estimates for a vaccine were still that it would not be available for 12 to 18 months.
Sutton also urged those who were unwell to self-isolate and particularly avoid public transport and public gatherings until they had been tested.
However Mikakos said there was no need for panic-buying of supplies.
“Have enough of what you need if you need to self isolate for 14 days; that does not mean filling up your home and garage with toilet rolls,” she said.