Bratislava, 26 March 2020: The greatest limitations in Slovakia are in collecting samples, says epidemiologist Alexandra Bražinová from the Faculty of Medicine of Comenius University. Confused and frightened people are calling the information lines. Bražinová has been at the centre of events since the outbreak of the epidemic in Slovakia. She describes what an epidemiologist's day is like in these times.

26. 03. 2020 20.01 hod.
By: CU Public Relations Office

Currently the main role of epidemiologists is to communicate with people who have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and to ensure their quarantine. In addition, they determine and seek out any close contacts of those who are infected and ensure their quarantine as well. This includes identifying workplace contacts and quarantining workplaces. One infected person has an average of twenty contacts to be contacted, tested, and quarantined. “I don't know if you can imagine the volume of this work, but I can say that we are working almost nonstop,” says Bražinová.

Epidemiologists evaluate the case history of who should have samples taken to be tested for the new coronavirus. This involves knowing about the close contacts of infected people as well as callers to the information line according to the information they provide. According to Bražinová, it would be best to test anyone who requests it. “The problem is not in the tests themselves, as laboratories would be able to make several times more tests than up to now. The problem is that we are limited by the collection of samples,” she says. In the Bratislava region, there are only two possibilities for testing: the Department of Infectology and Geographical Medicine at the Faculty of Medicine of Comenius University, Slovak Medical University, and University Hospital Bratislava at Kramáre; and a mobile collection by a dedicated team, who need full body protective gear. There was only one such team at the beginning of the outbreak, and protective equipment is limited. Protective clothing may only be used once when collecting in one household, and then it is disposed of as hazardous waste. They are able to make a maximum of 30 collections subscriptions in 24 hours. However, due to the lack of this equipment, there are delays and on some days these mobile collections are suspended. Currently, household collections in Bratislava are being done for immobile patients only. The situation is changing every day.

People are continuously calling the Regional Public Health Authority in Bratislava, and it is very difficult to keep things going. However, this information line is important, as it reduces the number of people who would otherwise go to doctors' surgeries or to Accident and Emergency wings at hospitals. Recently, trained medical students from the Faculty of Medicine have been voluntarily working on the information line. It is possible to handle twenty to thirty calls per hour. In addition to asking about being tested for the new coronavirus, people most often ask about exemptions to mandatory quarantine measures.

Although doctors and health care professionals in hospitals, laboratories, and call centres are under very heavy pressure these days, they remain fully committed and are aware of their responsibility for the health of the population. "We try to do everything within our power and reach, making every effort to keep the epidemic under control," adds Bražinová. At the same time, however, she points out that it is ultimately up to each of us as to how the situation will finally end.

The volunteering medical students have been bolstered by colleagues from the Faculty of Natural Sciences, who also want to help in the diagnosis of samples from the University Hospital Bratislava. In agreement with the hospital, the laboratory diagnostics of COVID-19 (coronavirus) will be launched in the Science Park of Comenius  University. The information line in Martin and the hospital are being helped by students from the Jessenius Faculty of Medicine, who also coordinate with international students. Students of pharmacy are lending a helping hand at pharmacies in dispensing and preparing medicines. Our students are also planning on providing psychological and spiritual counselling.