St Augustine Hospital investigation reveals virus likely transmitted from one patient to another

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The COVID-19 outbreak at Netcare’s St Augustine Hospital in Durban was in all likelihood caused by the virus being transmitted from one patient to another in the emergency room. That is according to a report by a group of medical experts from the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Altogether 119 patients and healthcare workers were infected. 15 of the 39 patients died.

This caused the hospital and the outpatient renal unit to be closed.

The COVID-19 outbreak in St. Augustine Hospital from early March to the end of April constituted 14% of KwaZulu-Natal’s coronavirus burden at the time.

A report by three medical experts from the University of KwaZulu-Natal indicates that the coronavirus spread through five wards – the outpatient renal unit at the hospital and a nursing home elsewhere in the city.

According to the report, the outbreak most probably started when the virus was transmitted from a patient being checked for COVID-19 to a patient who was suspected to have suffered a stroke.

The experts say the patient who was infected in the emergency department did not show any symptoms of COVID-19 nor was such an infection suspected.

By the time, she was diagnosed with COVID-19, several other healthcare workers and patients had already been infected.

The report is based on record reviews, interviews with healthcare workers, as well as genetic sequencing of the virus.

All 18 DNA sequences were almost identical, pointing to a single source.

Community transmission has, however, not been ruled out.

According to the report, the St Augustine case shows how easily the coronavirus can spread through a hospital.

The Investigation was led by UKZN academics bringing together expertise in infectious diseases, epidemiology, and viral genomics. Professor Tulio de Oliveira is the director of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform:


The report recommends, among other things, that the hospital be divided into separate zones, according to COVID-19 risk, as well as weekly rapid coronavirus tests of all frontline workers.

Netcare says all the recommendations have been implemented.

Regional Director, Craig Murphy, says the outbreak occurred at a time when many national guidelines were being changed and refined as the epidemic spread through the country.

Below are the latest COVID-19 stats in South Africa: