When COVID-19 first arrived in the United States in 2020, scientists and health care professionals knew little to none about the virus. Research has been critical to understanding how the virus is spread and how we can keep our health care professionals and community safe.
Sigrun Hallmeyer, MD, Medical Director and oncologist at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital is the principal investigator of a current research study that aims to better understand COVID-19 exposure in health care workers and their families. It is completely funded by donor support.
“Initially, we were a hotspot at Lutheran General,” Dr. Hallmeyer says, referring to the high number of cases reported in the Park Ridge, IL, area in Spring of last year. “We want to know if that would lead to higher rates of professional exposure and infection among our medical staff. We also need to know how effective we are at protecting ourselves from the virus.”
The study performs antibody tests on nearly 500 hospital physicians. It started in September 2020, and at various intervals, those same participants donate blood and their antibody baseline levels are evaluated. The research also includes a questionnaire about their professional and social behavior, attitude towards social distancing, the wearing of physical protective equipment (PPE), and household environment like number of children. The study will continue for a year, but Dr. Hallmeyer says they’ve already seen some interesting data.
“In our first analysis from September, we saw that only 20 physicians tested positive for antibodies, which is four percent less than the general population,” Dr. Hallmeyer explains. “They’re performing high-risk procedures like intubating COVID-positive patients, but their positivity rate is lower than the general population.”
Dr. Hallmeyer believes that’s an indication that Advocate Aurora Health is doing a great job of protecting our physicians and those physicians are taking exposure seriously while at work. However, after the second round of antibodies were tested in December, the positivity rate of the physicians more than doubled to 9%. Dr. Hallmeyer believes the increased exposure was likely due to personal and private circumstances, not professional.
Approximately $100,000 of Foundation funds have gone towards this study, mostly to cover the laboratory testing. There will be more to be learned once the study is complete, but the results could impact the health and behavior of not just physicians, but the entire medical community.
“Much of what we know about this virus is driven by clinical data. And without donor support, we wouldn’t have been able to do this. Philanthropy really is the backbone to this type of research,” Dr. Hallmeyer says.
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