Testing times in Dublin

23/04/2020

In this series of articles we meet, recognise and celebrate some of the many members of the hockey community – administrators, officials, players – who are at the frontline in the fight to contain and stop Corona Virus. Our ‘Excellent Eight’ featured in this series represent the thousands of people from the European hockey family putting themselves and their health on the line at this unprecedented time.

Kate Bryne’s battle with the virus is being waged from the laboratory. The hockey player from Loreto Hockey Club in Ireland is one of a huge number of medical scientists involved in testing for COVID-19, a key part of the government’s strategy to quell and defeat the disease.

Operating out of a diagnostic microbiology lab in an acute adult hospital in Dublin, Kate and her colleagues normally investigate clinical specimens when bacterial, viral or fungal infections are suspected. This includes infections such as bloodstream infections, pneumonia and meningitis. As Kate says: “These infections are still occurring, so we contain using routine testing alongside COVID-19 testing. It is really all-go at the moment.”

The lab-based scientists are the hidden heroes in the fight against the disease. More than 70 per cent of illnesses – non-COVID-19 – are diagnosed through results generated from patient samples and the service is 24/7. But, in the battle against COVID-19, the lab at the Dublin hospital has gone into over-drive.

Kate says when the demand for COVID-19 testing began the lab did not have the appropriate test available. But, the scientists were swift to meet the challenge and soon the test was validated and implemented. Testing is carried out seven days a week. Kate explains that COVID-19 testing involves using a molecular platform that targets the viral genetic material. It is hands-on and data interpretation by a scientist is required.

Like so many others involved in the medical and essential services, Kate’s working life has changed dramatically in recent weeks. “We have been split into teams and run the lab in rotation,” she says. “If anyone contracts the virus this will avoid the need to shut down the lab.

“Everyone is really focused but there is an element of pressure with COIVD-19 testing. The results we produce enable the identification of positive patients, prompting contact tracing to begin. In a hospital setting, the results we produce contribute to patient management and flow. These results must be accurate and made available in a timely manner and with this comes a heightened pressure.”

On a personal level, Kate says that her grandparents are in the at-risk group, so she worries for them. There is also a general level of anxiety and uncertainty among the population as no-one knows how long things will continue like this.

However, she is also finding positives in the situation: “Amongst all of the change and uncertainty I think it’s amazing to see communities come together in a time like this. We’ve seen communities engaging with elderly people to ensure their needs are met, companies whose trading has otherwise stopped, deliver food to frontline staff and, in general, there is just a real team effort in promoting social distancing and hand hygiene, which we all know are essential at this time.

“Everyone is really conscious of washing their hands and sanitising now which is great. And I hope everyone keeps this up. Hand hygiene removes multidrug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA and can protect us from all sorts of viral infections from a head cold to the winter vomiting bug. Keep it up!”

From a professional perspective, Kate says the medical profession in Ireland is striving to be on the front foot. “Vaccines are in development which is encouraging. In Ireland, COVID-19 testing has been set up in numerous sites. Irish man Mick Ryan is the executive director of the WHO health emergencies programme and leading the global response to COVID-19. As a country, we are following best practises.

“I think this pandemic has also really highlighted the importance of vaccines; both the need for production of new vaccines and the uptake of them.”

For now, Kate’s world is one of sterile walls and testing equipment but she is looking forward to the day she can step back on the hockey pitch, although as she adds with a smile: “Can you imagine the pain we’ll be in the day after?! The legs will be in bits!”

This is the final story in our #ExcellentEight series, huge thanks to Sarah Juggins who put the series together and to Kate Byrne, Peter EldersLori Di Guardo Maxime Chéron ,  Hollie Pearne-Webb , Martin HänerKateřina Huptychová and Pere Freixa for telling their very personal experiences in relation to the fight against COVID19. We wish them all to stay well, continue the vital work they do and we look forward to meeting them all again on the side of a hockey pitch! #EquallyAmazing

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