Collecting travel history during medical tests may help contain coronavirus: Study

Houston, Mar 5 (PTI) Integrating travel history information into routine medical tests could help stem the rapidly widening global coronavirus outbreak, as well as future pandemics, according to a study which may lead to new protocols for clinicians and officials working to contain epidemics.

According to the study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, travel history could be added to the routine information such as temperature and blood pressure collected in electronic medical records.

'We have the infrastructure to do this easily with the electronic medical record, we just need to implement it in a way to make it useful to the care teams,' said Trish Perl, study co-author from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) in the US.

'Once the infrastructure is built, we'll also need to communicate what is called 'situational awareness' to ensure that providers know what geographic areas have infections so that they can act accordingly,' Perl said.

The researchers noted that a simple, targeted travel history can help put infectious symptoms in context for physicians and caregiver teams.

They said this information can provide more detailed patient case history, enable further testing, and rapid implementation of protective measures for others in affected households, co-workers, or health care personnel.

According to the researchers, shared electronic health records can integrate travel history with computerised decision-making support to suggest specific diagnoses in recent travellers.

They said this could help in much the same way as trained medical teams routinely ask about tobacco exposure to ascertain levels of cancer and heart disease risk.

'The urgent threat of communicable diseases comes with significant morbidity and mortality, tremendous health care disruptions and resource utilization, and collateral economic and societal costs,' the scientists wrote in the study.

They said the emergence of novel respiratory diseases in the past two decades -- such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2012-2013, and COVID-19 from China -- demonstrate the need for change.

'MERS and SARS were associated with very specific travel. MERS was associated with travel to the Arabian Peninsula, and SARS was associated with travel primarily to Hong Kong, Singapore, and Beijing,' Perl said.

'Currently COVID is similar in that there are geographic clusters, but those lines may be blurring as the outbreak expands,' she added.

According to the scientists, the challenges and potential stress on the public health infrastructure, including the hospitals which are part of this, will be notable in that we could see large numbers of patients.

'Our role will not only be to care for these patients but to communicate to them the strategies that they can use to protect themselves,' Perl said.

The researchers believe that the current outbreak is an opportune time to consider adding travel history to the routine.

'The COVID outbreak is clearly moving at a tremendous pace, with new clusters appearing daily,' Perl said.

'What is different with this outbreak is that this virus is more fit and transmissible and hence there has been much more transmission,' she added. PTI VIS VIS VIS