4 Dec 2020

Elective surgery patients screened for COVID-19

Prof Paul Myles in theatre
A recent COVID-19 research project involving Monash University, ANZCA’s Clinical Trials Network and Australian National University has seen elective surgery patients in 14 Australian hospitals screened for COVID-19 in hospital to establish infection rates and manage surgical risk.

Led by Professor Paul Myles, from the Central Clinical School at Monash and The Alfred’s Department of Anaesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, the trial saw some 3000 Australians given a nasal swab and having blood samples taken while under anaesthetic, to check for current COVID-19 infection or the presence of antibodies that would indicate a previous infection.

Prof Myles co-leads a federally-funded national project of coronavirus surveillance for elective surgery, which was established in the wake of a major global study that found patients infected with the coronavirus are at a heightened risk of dying post-operatively.

That study, by the University of Birmingham, looked at more than 1,100 patients across 24 countries who had surgery between 1 January and 31 March this year. Just over 25% went ahead with the elective surgery despite there being evidence that the coronavirus was escalating globally. Of the study cohort, more than two-thirds were diagnosed with COVID-19 post-surgery, and a quarter of those died within 30 days of surgery.

Waiting lists for elective surgery continue to grow around the country and globally due to treatment delays caused by the pandemic. This mounting international evidence highlights the need for careful management to balance the need for surgery and the risks of admitting asymptomatic COVID-positive patients or of a compromised patient contracting the virus, with potentially fatal consequences.

Professor Myles said that the Australian results are greatly reassuring.

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