Will the recent emergence of coronavirus mutations precipitate an increase in the incidence of stress disorders among health care professionals?
The pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) and the recent emergence of the B.1.1.7 and other variant mutations including the recently discovered SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01 in the USA have wreaked intense anxiety and apprehension among the general population and the healthcare professionals who are tasked with the care and well-being of their patients. Health care professionals often have limited availability of essential personal protective equipment resources, and few reliable or time-proven treatments and protocols readily available. As the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly approaches the one-year mark, lockdowns and travel restrictions continue, reports of domestic abuse and other human failures are reportedly on the rise in the general population, and cases of posttraumatic stress related disorders are increasing within the healthcare professionals workforce, particularly among the more junior and less experienced members of the medical staff. Thus, these observations indicate a need for increasing emphasis on pre-stress and preventive post traumatic stress disorder training and teamwork education and support at all levels of medical education involving patient care, including first responders, nursing, allied healthcare professionals, and medical student and residency training. Historically pandemics have occurred about three times each century, so the time to address the situation is now critically close at hand; not only is it essential to enhance the preparedness of our current medical workforce, but it is also the time to begin preparing for the next generation of healthcare professionals such that the next generation of healthcare professionals may have a grasp on the next pandemic in advance of its appearance. SARS-CoV-2 and most recent offspring in the USA, the B.1.1.7 variant (SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01) arrived without warning: this is not a dress rehearsal and is likely here to stay at least until a vaccine and/or herd immunity becomes effective in the population. While the morbidity and mortality of SARS-CoV-2 VUI 202012/01 is predicted to be of similar magnitude to that of its parent virus at around 0.14%, the variant mutation is believed to be more highly contagious than SARS-CoV-2 and may be responsible at least in part for the recent spike in positive cases in the US, UK and elsewhere. Introduction of additional stress prevention training such as facial recognition signs among co-workers may hold the cue to address this concern and reduce the incidence of stress-related morbidity among medical staff. Now as never before, an ounce of prevention in the way of pre-stress and environmental stress preparedness may be worth a pound of cure.