5 key findings of the UKZN probe into the Covid-19 outbreak at St Augustine’s Hospital
Durban - The findings of three University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) academics into the outbreak of 119 Covid-19 infections at the Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital in March during which 80 patients and 39 staff were infected and the deaths 15 people were released on Wednesday.
The investigation conducted by UKZN academics Dr Richard Lessells, Professor Yunus Moosa and Professor Tulio de Oliveira were conducted after the provincial Health Department and the Netcare Group closed the hospital in early April after the first wave of infections were detected at the hospital.
The investigation began on April 4 after 13 confirmed cases and three deaths at the hospital were reported.
The hospital was reopened on May 10, along with Netcare Kingsway Hospital which had also closed briefly after an outbreak of the virus was detected there.
The academics said that through detailed analysis of the timelines they were able to build a hypothesis of the most likely chain of events and understand how the virus spread around the hospital.
Among the findings of the investigation were:
- The was most likely transmitted from a patient being assessed for Covid-19 in the emergency department to another patient being admitted at the same time with a suspected stroke.
- The virus then spread widely through the hospital among patients and healthcare workers in at least five wards, leading to its temporary closure.
- The initial spread of the virus was not recognised at the time, because the first patient, who they think was infected in the emergency department, was not initially suspected of having Covid-19 as she did not have any of the typical risk factors and presented with a single episode of fever without cough or other respiratory symptoms. By the time the patient was diagnosed with Covid-19 and the hospital began responding to the virus several other patients and health-care workers had already been infected.
- The UKZN investigation revealed the hospital’s outbreak led to clusters of cases in a local nursing home (four) and outpatient dialysis unit (17).
- While the investigation could not rule out that some of the infections were acquired in the community, all 18 DNA sequences from the outbreak were almost identical, pointing to a single source of infection and widespread transmission in the hospital.
Netcare regional director Craig Murphy welcomed the release of the report and said all recommendations and interventions the report listed were fully implemented. In many cases the interventions were already in place and were further strengthened and enhanced as a result of the recommendations.