Anxiety, stress and hope merge in Covid-19 testing in Mexico

By Juan Manuel Ramirez G.

Mexico City, Jun 17 (efe-epa).- Medical personnel at Mexico City’s Juarez Hospital have the difficult task of diagnosing Covid-19 in patients who undergo the appropriate test and then have to deal with the anxiety to stress of waiting for the result while trying notg to lose hope that they will test negative and cheat the disease.

“It’s going to hurt,” warns the staffer while testing a 45-year-old recovering patient who has come to learn if he still has the disease. This is the second test the man has been given to determine if he has managed to become Covid-free.

Carefully, the health care worker inserts a cotton swab deep into the sinus cavity through the nose as the patient grimaces.

When the sample has been taken and the testing ends, the phase of uncertainty begins.

“Positive or negative?” is the question that goes around in the patient’s mind for at least several hours and up to several days as he awaits the test results, according to the person in charge of the testing area.

“We try to tell the patients that the test is something secondary and that the main thing is to know their state of health, that they are stable,” Antonio Aguilar Rojas, the man overseeing Hospital Juarez’s command center, told EFE on Wednesday.

The test “is necessary to distinguish the virus from other pathologies and we know that learning the result produces anxiety in patients,” said Aguilar Rojas, who is also the head of the hospital’s Epidemiological Monitoring Unit.

Although everyone wants a quick, negative response, the other side of the coin comes when the test is positive and serves to increase the statistics on the disease in Mexico, where so far 154,863 confirmed coronavirus cases have been detected and 18,310 people have died from Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic here on Feb. 28.

Juarez Hospital used to attend to thousands of people needing medical attention of one kind or another each day. However, the pandemic forced the hospital to revamp its operations and, like other medical centers, it was reconfigured to deal exclusively with coronavirus cases.

Now, the halls are almost empty, but that doesn’t mean that the workload has slacked off. Doctors, nurses and other workers are at their posts, the hospital looks like it is the scene of a television series on emergency medicine where everyone knows exactly what to do.

Before the pandemic, estimates by the Mexican Health Secretariat were that Juarez Hospital attended to some 375,000 out-patients per year, or 1,027 per day on average.

Juarez Hospital is one of 138 hospitals and laboratories, both private and public, that can do coronavirus testing in Mexico.

Not all the patients are testing candidates.

The process a person suspected of being infected with the virus must go through before getting tested is as follows: When they arrive at the hospital they are interviewed and a questionnaire on them is filled out, and on that basis it is determined whether they are a testing candidate or not. If so, samples are taken of their mucus and saliva using a mouth swab, a throat and sinus test and cultures are grown using the material collected.

“Taking the sample … is somewhat bothersome since it’s through the nose. … The patient feels some discomfort,” epidemiologist Victor Hugo Gutierrez told EFE.

Regarding the stress or fear among people who are tested, Gutierrez said that that’s because it’s a “new disease” about which not much is known, either by the medical community or the public.

Among the health care workers, he said, they’ve been exposed many times to viruses and other illnesses, and now they must “redouble their learning” and “insist on knowledge and prevention” so that they don’t get sick.

Later the test sample is processed at the hospital’s Molecular Biology lab, where it is compared with the initial case study, and later DNA from the culture is extracted.

The hospital can process up to 60 tests per day in conjunction with the Research Center and Advanced Studies Center of Mexico’s National Polytechnical Institute, located about three km (1.5 mi.) away.

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