COVID-19 pandemic: effects and evidence-based recommendations
for otolaryngology and head and neck surgery practice
The 2019 novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is a highly contagious zoonosis produced by SARS-CoV-2 that is spread human-to-human by respiratory secretions. It was declared by the WHO as a public health emergency. The most susceptible populations, needing mechanical ventilation, are the elderly and people with associated comorbidities.
There is an important risk of contagion for anesthetists, dentists, head and neck surgeons, maxillofacial surgeons, ophthalmologists and otolaryngologists. Health workers represent between 3.8% to 20% of the infected population; some 15% will develop severe complaints and among them, many will lose their lives. A large number of patients do not have overt signs and symptoms (fever/respiratory), yet pose a real risk to surgeons (who should know this fact and must therefore apply respiratory protective strategies for all patients they encounter).
All interventions that have the potential to aerosolize aerodigestive secretions should be avoided or used only when mandatory. Health workers who are: pregnant, over 55-65 years of age, with a history of chronic diseases (uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes mellitus, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and all clinical scenarios where immunosuppression is feasible, including that induced to treat chronic inflammatory conditions and organ transplants) should avoid the clinical attention of a potentially infected patient. Healthcare facilities should prioritize urgent and emergency visits and procedures until the present condition stabilizes; truly elective care should cease and discussed on a case-by-case basis for cancer patients.
For those who are working with COVID-19 infected patients’ isolation is compulsory in the following settings: a) unprotected close contact with COVID-19 pneumonia patients: b) onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath and other symptoms (gastrointestinal complaints, anosmia and dysgeusia have been reported in a minority of cases).
For any care or intervention in the upper aerodigestive tract region, irrespective of the setting and a confirmed diagnosis (e.g.; rhinoscopy or flexible laryngoscopy in the outpatient setting and tracheostomy or rigid endoscopy under anesthesia) it is strongly recommended that all healthcare personnel wear personal protective equipment (PPE) such as N95, gown, cap, eye protection and gloves.
The procedures described are essential in trying to maintain safety of healthcare workers during COVID-19 pandemic. In particular, otolaryngologists, head and neck, and maxillofacial surgeons are per se exposed to the greatest risk of infection while caring for COVID-19 positive subjects, and their protection should be considered a priority in the present circumstances.