Tokyo, Feb. 25 (Jiji Press)–With the new coronavirus continuing to spread in Japan, many patients are being passed around from hospital to hospital as some medical institutions refuse to see patients suspected of having the virus.
While some patients are suspected of community-acquired infection for which transmission routes are unknown, many people are unable to take the COVID-19 coronavirus test due to strict testing criteria.
Experts point out that the vague criteria have caused confusion among medical staff.
According to the health ministry, eligible to take the virus test are people who have come into close contact with coronavirus patients or have recently traveled to infected areas in China, where the virus originated, and have a fever of at least 37.5 degrees Celsius as well as pneumonia-like symptoms that require hospitalization.
However, the final decision on whether to actually test a patient is “up to the doctor’s comprehensive judgment.”
A government worker in his 30s who lives in Tokyo visited a hospital after his temperature rose to 39 degrees on Feb. 17. When he mentioned that he had recently visited Taiwan, he was advised to consult a dedicated coronavirus consultation center.
The consultation center told him that visitors to Taiwan were not eligible to take the virus test. After being refused by two more hospitals due to reasons such as inadequate facilities, he was finally seen by a doctor at a general hospital where he took a lung X-ray. He was given the all-clear.
“I suppose it couldn’t be helped” with the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, he said.
A 29-year-old male company worker in Tokyo called the coronavirus consultation center after suffering a fever of 39 degrees on Feb. 12 as well as feeling lethargic and having diarrhea. He recently had contact with a person who had been to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus.
The center told him to visit a local hospital as he did not have close contact with the Wuhan person. He was refused by a hospital in Tokyo, but was later able to see a doctor at a specialized infection treatment hospital.
The novel coronavirus is difficult to judge from symptoms, and it is said that most infected cases do not become severe.
“It’s likely that many people have recovered without even realizing they had been infected,” said an official at the disease control section of Chiba Prefecture, east of Tokyo.
A Chiba woman in her 70s who was found to have been infected on Thursday had initially only been told to keep a watch on her symptoms. She went on a three-day bus tour until Feb. 18, but the symptoms continued, so she visited a hospital where she took the virus test for the first time and tested positive.
“Medical institutions are probably overreacting,” fearing the risks of in-hospital infection, a Tokyo metropolitan government official said, explaining why so many hospitals are refusing patients.
“There seems to be confusion among medical staff because the wording of the virus test criteria, ‘up to the doctor’s comprehensive judgment,’ is unclear,” the official said.
Masahiro Kami, a physician and head of the Medical Governance Research Institute, a nonprofit organization, said he sees almost every day patients who are suspected of having the coronavirus but cannot be tested because their symptoms are mild.
“The current criteria that only people with severe symptoms can be tested are not appropriate,” Kami said. “The government lacks the perspective of responding to patients’ anxieties.”