COVID-19: “Healthcare Workers at High Risk” – Dr. Arie Blitz

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“And the reason for their high rates of infection and death are presumably due to overwhelming exposure from multiple patients.” 

Dr. Arie Blitz MD, MBA, Thoracic Surgeon

By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez

As originally published in Mega Doctor News newsprint edition May 2020.

Dr. Arie Blitz MD, MBA is a Thoracic Surgeon that provides Adult Surgery, Aortic Surgery, Cardiopulmonary Transplantation, and Minimally Invasive Cardiac Surgeries. He agreed to respond to questions concerning the pandemic situation currently prevalent in the U.S. and the world.

He told Mega Doctor News that his primary concern is that we are only aware of the tip of the iceberg. He pointed out that without the availability of widespread diagnostic throat swab tests and serum antibody tests, we are only guessing at whether someone might have the disease.

“Even more important, up to half of the infected patients do not have symptoms. That is why it is crucial to be able to test people.” He said, “In my field, cardiac surgery, given the widespread prevalence of the disease at present, it is critical that we know before going to the operating room whether someone is infected.

Therefore, all my patients are tested before surgery. If we take a patient to the operating room, and they end up being infected, that could lead to disastrous results postoperatively.”

Besides, he said, that as a precaution, “For the foreseeable future, every patient should get both tests, once they are proven reliable and available.”

Based on his experience, Dr. Blitz said that the groups of people in the highest risk are the elderly, the immunocompromised, those with hypertension, diabetes, or obesity. “But nobody is completely safe,” he said.

Concerning the long-term consequences for someone that has contracted COVID-19, he said that it is too early to tell. “There is concern that the lung damage, which is life-threatening at first, may lead to chronic lung disease in survivors. The attack on the lungs is particularly severe, and once you require a ventilator, the estimated mortality rate is more than 70-80%,” Dr. Blitz stated. There has been a lot of speculation that being asymptomatic means the same thing as being immune.

He said, “No, they are not the same thing. Patients who are actively infected can be asymptomatic. Those who are immune are those who have had an infection—symptomatic or asymptomatic—and now have protective antibodies against COVID-19. The blood of immune patients is being used to treat patients who are very ill from COVID-19 infection and are on life support. This is called passive immunity. The other way you can get immune to COVID-19 is through a vaccine, which we don’t have yet and will not likely have for a year.”

For several days, there has been a race by authorities performing antibody tests. Dr. Blitz says that such activity will help us leave quarantine. “If we have a reliable antibody test, it will tell us whether we are presently immune to the Coronavirus. That means we will not likely get it, and we will not likely transfer it to others.” He said, “From the perspective of the community, it will be safe to leave quarantine. 

One unanswered question is, for those that are immune, how long that immunity will last; it could be weeks, months, years, or forever. It is too early to tell. Thus, until we know for sure, we have to be very careful about thinking we are immune to COVID-19 forever.”

Every time we have an opportunity to interview a physician, we bring different questions that, in the past, have been asked by our readers. One is what is the difference between the Flu and COVID-19? 

Dr. Blitz said that the flu is usually caused by influenza type A or B viruses. Vaccines currently prevent most cases of the flu, but vaccinated patients can still get the flu if a new strain presents itself. “For most, the flu viruses cause relatively mild disease, but can be more serious in some, especially those who have poorly functioning immune systems.” 

He continued, “Much the same applies to COVID-19, but this disease—from what we know at present—appears to be much more infectious and leads to overwhelming lung complications in certain individuals.” He said, “COVID-19, unlike the flu viruses, has led to a cataclysmic number of infections and deaths in a short period in our country. While those with poorly functioning immune systems or who are older are at more risk for this complication, some healthy individuals have also succumbed to this disease.” 

Dr. Blitz explained that this is especially true for healthcare workers, and their high rates of infection and death are presumably due to overwhelming exposure from multiple patients. “No forms of personal protection equipment are foolproof, but many personnel remains without adequate protection,” he finalized.