(CNN) – It remains unclear why the novel coronavirus seems to hit health care workers harder than it does other sufferers, an expert said Monday.
“We know the high mortality in older people, but for reasons that we don’t understand front-line health care workers are at great risk for serious illness despite their younger age,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
“There’s nothing more destabilizing” than health care workers falling ill, he told CNN, and it will take time to determine what is making them sicker than other patients.
Hotez’s words came following a weekend in which the American College of Emergency Physicians said two doctors suffering from the coronavirus were in critical condition: a Washington physician in his 40s and a 70-year-old in Patterson, New Jersey.
It wasn’t certain whether the Washington doctor contracted the illness through work or community spread, but he complied with all relevant protocols, ACEP said. The New Jersey doctor, an emergency preparedness specialist, was admitted to a hospital with upper respiratory issues and was isolated in an intensive care unit as of Saturday, the AECP said.
“I am deeply saddened by this news, but not surprised,” ACEP president Dr. William Jaquis said. “As emergency physicians, we know the risks of our calling. We stand united with our colleagues.
“Dr. Li Wenliang — the Wuhan Central Hospital physician who was hailed as a hero for trying to sound the alarm about coronavirus, even as police accused of him of rumor mongering — died within weeks of being exposed.After notifying his classmates of seven patients who were quarantined after being diagnosed with a coronavirus in December, the whistleblower died from the illness February 7.
At the time, the number of cases in China had just topped 31,000. They now stand at more than 170,000 worldwide.
“Maybe it’s due to a higher dose of virus they’re receiving,” Hotez hypothesized in his Monday interview with CNN. “We don’t really know. It’ll take time to study.”
Coronavirus containment and treatment is already taxing governments and hospitals the nation over. Having health care workers sidelined and unable to care for patients presents a conundrum for which there is no Plan B at this point, Hotez said.
“We have to do something to give front-line health care workers an extra level of comfort,” he said.