COVID-19: the pharmacist impact

Italy is one of the nations that has been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. New data shows just how it has affected community pharmacists   

Since the beginning of the 2020 Sars-CoV-2 Italian outbreak, healthcare workers have been among the most exposed categories to the virus. Now, researchers have unearthed the first comprehensive information about community pharmacists’ occupational exposure, symptoms development, and testing practices.

Between April 30th and May 10th, a questionnaire was administered through social media to Italian community pharmacists, of whom 1632 answered the survey.

Italy has approximately 67,000 pharmacists currently working in 19.931 private and public pharmacies,  with a mean of 4.40 working individuals per single pharmacy, including co-workers without a degree.

About 21,000 are pharmacy owners and/or business partners (31.4%) and 46.000 are certified employees (68,6%). 80% of them are women, with a mean age of 40 years.

In terms of testing levels and their outcomes, the respondents reported the following: 

  • In the period of study, 102 community pharmacists (6.2%) were tested for COVID-19 – 65 were symptomatic for highly suggestive or aspecific COVID-related symptoms, and 37 were asymptomatic.
  • Among the 65 symptomatic pharmacists, 25 were tested due to symptom development (of whom nine turned out positive), eight because of contacts with positive colleagues (three positives), six because of contacts with positive relatives (two positives), nine with positive customers (no positives) and 17 for other epidemiological or surveillance issues (one positive).
  • A total amount of 15 pharmacists turned out positive on nasopharyngeal swab.
  • Women were more often symptomatic than men both for highly suggestive (84% vs. 77%) and for nonspecific symptoms (82.9% vs 77%).
  • Pharmacy owners were less often symptomatic than employed pharmacists both for specific (15.2% vs. 25.5%) and for nonspecific symptoms (17.2% vs. 25.5%).
  • A greater likelihood to being positive on COVID-19 testing was not observed among women, neither among pharmacy employees.
  • Pharmacists may have been exposed to infections by co-workers, since 7 out of 15 (46.7%) positive community pharmacists reported at least one co-worker who tested positive to COVID-19, versus 15 out of 83 in those who tested negative.
  • A higher rate of positive relatives was also observed among positive pharmacists (40% vs 4.8%). “This may suggest that their exposure, may have led to higher infection transmission among themselves and their relatives,” the authors said.

The researchers also asked pharmacists if, during the period between February 28th and May 10th, they had developed one or more of these symptoms: fever, cough, dyspnea, anosmia/ageusia, asthenia, diarrhea, myalgias, sore throat, headache, and mental confusion.

  • 624 respondents reported at least one symptom during this period.
  • 269 pharmacists reported at least one of the highly suggestive symptoms – Fever, cough, dyspnea and anosmia/ageusia (128 reported fever, 137 cough, 53 dyspnea and 51 anosmia/ageusia)
  • 355 reported at least one nonspecific symptoms, but no COVID-19 specific symptoms.
  • The period with the highest number reporting highly suggestive symptoms was February 28th to March 8th

Among the findings were:

  • All but one pharmacy (99.9%) adopted at least one protective measure.
  • Pharmacists reported a 98.0% PPE adoption rate
  • 87.9% of pharmacies adopted protective physical barriers within the pharmacy
  • 68,8% of pharmacies adopted other social distancing arrangements.
  • There was a 89.1% drop in customers during the period

“A very high rate of protection measures adoption has been observed in this survey among Italian CPs and OTC drugstores, even more than what had been recommended by national authorities,” the authors said .

“Therefore, CPs have clearly acted responsibly by adopting several lines of protective measures, thus limiting the virus spread.”

“Although the sample is too heterogeneous to deduct a conclusive statement, according to data, it is suggestive that the prevalence of infection among CPs (0.92%) resulted intermediate between health care workers in general (much higher, estimated at 1.98%) and same-aged general population’s (lower, estimated at 0.31%),” the authors concluded.

The study was published in the journal Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy. 

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