N.B. docs encouraged to wear goggles, but not enough evidence for public to follow: experts

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WATCH: The New Brunswick Medical Society is encouraging doctors to wear goggles when in contact with patients in hospital. That’s to help protect them against COVID-19. And while that measure is supported in a higher-risk setting, just how well can the virus spread through eyes? Experts say there is not enough data. Callum Smith explains – Jan 20, 2022

The New Brunswick Medical Society is encouraging doctors to wear goggles when in contact with patients in hospital to protect from COVID-19 infection, but experts say there’s not enough evidence to support the need for the general public to follow suit.

In an interview on Jan. 12 with Global News about PPE doctors wear in hospitals, New Brunswick Medical Society president Dr. Mark MacMillan said tight-fitting goggles are being recommended to doctors and other health-care workers when in contact with patients.

“We’re recommending wearing goggles as well, which have a nice fit. Not glasses like mine which are open, but a tighter fit along the side because we do know that some, a lot of transmission, is actually occurring through the mucous membranes of the eye as well,” MacMillan says.

“So, we’re recommending goggles as well for all physicians and other allied health-care professionals in contact with patients.”

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We’ve known for some time now that masks, physical distancing and washing your hands have been good ways to help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Read more: Canada’s efforts to buy pandemic PPE to be assessed by auditor general

Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal-based cardiologist and epidemiologist, supports wearing goggles or face shields in higher-risk settings such as hospitals, but says “it’s not that easy to establish how infection happens because once you get sick, there’s no way to really tell where the virus got in from.”

While surface transmission is possible, it’s not as likely, he says. The primary source of infection comes from person-to-person interaction, by way of air.

But in response to a question regarding spread, Labos says “I’m certainly not aware of much research on it.”

“I think what’s happening is, throughout the pandemic, it’s becoming increasingly clear that respiratory transmission is the primary route and we’re seeing more and more evidence that it’s not just large droplets as we were saying at the beginning,” he says. “But even small aerosols that can linger in the air for long periods of time, what we often talk about in terms of airborne transmission.”

Susanne Gulliver, an epidemiologist in St. John’s, concurs that there’s not enough evidence yet, but we can still stick to the basics.

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“There’s no great data, but I would remind people to not touch their eyes, to do what we were always doing: wash your hands,” she says.

“We’re watching science happen in real time which a lot of the general public don’t get to see; us hypothesis testing and learning as we go and as we’re communicating with the public.”

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And while she says to do what makes you feel safe, the general public doesn’t need to worry, Labos says — at least for now.

“If you’re trying to make the argument or trying to figure out if you need goggles or not, the best thing you can do is get a well-fitting mask,” he says.

And if you want to get better protection than a surgical mask, Labos says an N95 could be your best bet.


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