Covid-19: ‘Virus is ahead of us all the time’

Doctor who treated Ireland’s first-known case says the State must be ‘more proactive’

 ‘Looking back at China and Wuhan, we were all looking at it on the news and not realising that it was on its way or it was already here,’ says Dr Corinna Sadlier, consultant at Cork University Hospital

‘Looking back at China and Wuhan, we were all looking at it on the news and not realising that it was on its way or it was already here,’ says Dr Corinna Sadlier, consultant at Cork University Hospital

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The Cork doctor who treated the first-known case of Covid-19 community transmission in the State a year ago has warned the virus is still “ahead of us all the time”.

Dr Corinna Sadlier, infectious diseases consultant at Cork University Hospital, said the State’s response had to be “more proactive rather than reactive” as new more infectious variants emerge.

A year ago, the frontline medic treated a 43-year-old Co Cork man who was admitted to the hospital on February 25th with a headache and was later found to have pneumonia.

He tested positive for Covid-19 on March 5th from a swab taken on his admission to hospital. The father-of-four was the first known community-transmitted case of the disease in the State.

Trip to Italy

The case predated the first imported Covid-19 case reported publicly by the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) on February 29th – a north Dublin teenager who fell ill and was taken into isolation hospital following his return from a trip to Italy.

Public health doctors were unable to identify how the Cork man became infected.

Dr Sadlier said he developed “classic Covid” symptoms, with a drop in oxygen levels and acute respiratory distress syndrome. He was put on a ventilator and later transferred to a Dublin hospital where he underwent 27 days of specialised treatment. He died in early April.

“None of us in the country at that time would have thought Covid was here, that it was in the community, that it was in our hospital in a young person in the ICU,” said Dr Sadlier.

“I don’t know if we have learned to be more proactive rather than reactive. We are seeing with the variant now that we have three Brazilian cases identified. We have to suspect that the virus is ahead of us all the time as it was at the very beginning, a year ago. That is a space that we rapidly need to move into.”

‘Reservoir’

Reflecting on the pandemic a year on from the first community-transmission case, Dr Sadlier said there was clearly a “reservoir” of infection silently spreading in February 2020.

Within three days of that first case, there were two more infected people in Cork requiring critical care, she said.

“It would be very nice to be able to link it to some travel but clearly it was around the country. It just hadn’t bubbled up at that stage, but judging by where the curve and hospital admissions went in the weeks after, you would have not imagined that it was here that long before,” she said.

Dr Sadlier said the fact that, one year into the pandemic, the third wave in the winter was worse than the first wave last spring, shows how exposed the country still is to Covid-19.

The Cork hospital had three times as many patients with Covid-19 – more than 170 – as it had at the peak the first wave, she said.

“The virus has just been one step ahead of us all the way. Looking back at China and Wuhan, we were all looking at it on the news and not realising that it was on its way, or it was already here before we realised,” she said.

“It just shows how vulnerable we are to a pandemic or how an outbreak can become a pandemic so quickly.”

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