AOA’s Health Policy Institute Provides Information for ECPs to Address the Coronavirus

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ST. LOUIS—With the U.S. declaring a public health emergency in response to the outbreak of a novel coronavirus, the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) Health Policy Institute (HPI) has issued a statement with information relevant to the practice of optometry. The outbreak of the coronavirus also has generated a coordinated U.S. public health response in an effort to curb pandemic fears, AOA noted. As confirmed domestic cases increase, America's health care providers are put on alert. “Every doctor of optometry should understand the risks associated with this outbreak to ensure our continued ability to care for our patients,” HPI said in its statement last week.

“On Jan. 30, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared 2019-nCoV as a global health emergency, acknowledging that the disease now represents a risk beyond China, where it emerged in December 2019.”

AOA noted that, retroactive to Jan. 27, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar declared a public health emergency to aid response to the "Wuhan coronavirus." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed at least 11 cases in the U.S. of the respiratory illness as of late last week, and a confirmed instance of person-to-person transmission on U.S. soil, according to the AOA announcement.

According to the HPI statement, here are things an optometrist needs to know:

• As a reminder, although viral conjunctival infection is usually caused by adenovirus, 2019-nCoV may cause ocular signs and symptoms, including photophobia, irritation and watery discharge. These are predominantly self-limited but may require supportive care. Ocular discharge and tears are a potential source of contamination and the eye is also a route of exposure, so personal protection is required for the patient and care team.

• When dealing with a patient with an infectious virus, doctors of optometry need to have a clear understanding of the proper protocols to prevent the spread of infection. Vigilance and good hygiene—thorough handwashing, using gloves, disinfecting equipment and other recommendations provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—in the office when in contact with bodily fluids, such as tears, can help prevent infection. It is important to proactively reinforce such infection mitigation techniques with doctors and staff, no matter the size of the office setting.

• Be mindful of potential coronavirus activity in the community or region and a doctor in any of the areas currently affected can minimize the risk of exposure by encouraging patients to stay home if they have symptoms of cold, flu or respiratory infections.

According to the HPI statement, the 2019-nCoV virus is of high concern because it is a novel virus, meaning it has never occurred before in humans. Therefore, the oral or injectable vaccine (flu shot) individuals receive each year as part of a plan of protection from influenza (the flu) will not be protective against 2019-nCoV. It is important to note that the virus is transmitted person to person through either direct contact or an exchange of bodily fluids, the HPI statement noted.

To access the HPI's complete statement, “Doctors of Optometry and 2019-nCoV Novel Coronavirus” click here