GRANTS. Johan Ringlander, doctoral student in virology, has been awarded just over SEK 1 million from AFA Försäkring for a study on COVID-19 in geriatric care in Gothenburg. Together with his fellow researchers, he will examine virus and antibody samples from staff who feel healthy and from those who stay home from work with symptoms.
Many people infected with SARS-CoV-2 hardly have any symptoms or very mild ones. Since staff at nursing homes work very closely with the elderly, the study can contribute to safer work routines during the ongoing pandemic and in future outbreaks.
Fast and cheap tests
For the study, staff in nursing homes were asked to answer questions about their working conditions, the opportunities they have to use protective equipment, and the symptoms they experience. These answers will now be compared with the results from laboratory analyses.
“In the study, we use several different diagnostic tests. We want to find out if even very fast local tests can be useful. If staff in nursing homes could be tested more regularly with cheap and fast methods, such as before they start their shift, it might be possible to prevent the spread of infection,” says Johan Ringlander.
The research group will also sequence the virus’s genome to develop a detailed picture of how it has spread. Johan’s supervisor is Professor Magnus Lindh, and the project also includes District Doctor Christian Vergara, who has extensive experience of elderly care, Doctor Julia Widström, who studies the spread of infection at Virology, and Maria Jivegård, a resident physician in infectious medicine.
From hepatitis to COVID-19
Johan’s doctoral project is about hepatitis B, but he had to change focus once the pandemic struck.
“We have already collected a lot of samples during the spring and summer, and this has worked well thanks to very good collaboration with staff at the nursing homes. Even staff on vacation have come in to help us!”
The most important analyses for the study are performed at Microbiology, where the staff has been overburdened during the spring and summer. The fact that the rate of infection has now decreased means that the analyses can be performed faster, without burdening the laboratory as much. Fortunately, the pandemic has settled down somewhat, something that does not significantly impact the project. The study also examines the presence of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 among staff.
“It is likely that we will have to live with SARS-CoV-2 in the future but with a low incidence of infection. It will continue to be extremely important that we keep the virus out of nursing homes, which could cause serious outbreaks and consequences locally.
Reduced spread of infection in elderly care
There are many indications that care for the elderly during the pandemic has improved at protecting residents and that awareness about infection risks has increased. Other viral diseases, such as winter vomiting disease and the flu, are much less common than before. The conclusions from the study can hopefully be used to reduce future infectious outbreaks.
“The same or similar methods that we are investigating to stop COVID-19 can also be used against other viruses. In particular, we are also examining staff working conditions and how these affect the risk of spreading the infection, an issue that came up during the pandemic and that will be very important in the future as well.”
TEXT: ELIN LINDSTRÖM