In times of self-isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, concerned parents are often uncertain whether they should take their babies to screening and follow-up appointments. Retinopathy of Prematurity is an eye disease that affects mainly very preterm born babies and requires a close screening. Professor Andreas Stahl, Director and Chair of Ophthalmology, University Medicine Greifswald clarifies why screening should not be postponed.
Professor Stahl, is there anything one should consider regarding COVID-19 when it comes to treatment of ROP?
The key message to parents in these days is that is important to keep up the ROP screening process even in these difficult times. We have to ensure that all possible measures are taken to adapt our processes to the COVID-19 situation, BUT we have to ensure that we do not risk an infant’s eyesight. The stakes are high in ROP and we have to consider these eyes at risk of ROP as medical emergencies. We cannot delay screening in these infants by more than a few days (and even that can be problematic in some cases). We have to adhere to the established screening guidelines as good as we possibly can – otherwise we risk irreversible, and often bilateral blindness.
Is a follow-up appointment after the baby is discharged home still important in times of COVID19 or can parents postpone ROP follow-ups to a later time point?
Follow-up appointments are essential to ensure the long-term stability of an eye at risk of ROP. We strongly advise to keep up the outpatient screening visits after discharge from the hospital, even if it may be very difficult in some situations. Unfortunately, the risk for sight-threatening ROP does not end with discharge from the hospital but poses an ongoing threat to the visual function of these babies. Screening intervals and appointments should be followed according to the established screening guidelines – also after discharge from the hospital.
What precautionary measures should be taken, so patients coming in for an ROP follow-up do not get infected by the COVID-19?
Most hospitals and doctor’s offices have adapted to the COVID-19 situation by increasing their hygiene and safety standards. We advise all physicians and parents to adhere to these increased hygiene and safety standards by keeping distance between patients and between patients and doctors or nurses as good as possible. If possible, only one person should bring the infant to the screening visits, masks should be worn by both parents and doctors / nurses if possible and the time spent at the hospital / doctor’s office should be reduced to the necessary minimum.
We would like to thank Prof Dr Stahl for taking time to give this interview.
Note: To avoid infection with COVID-19 it is advisable to frequently wash your hands. If you want to promote handwashing in your organisation, find useful materials such as posters, flyers and colouring pictures at: www.efcni.org/activities/campaigns/wash-your-hands/
For further information about COVID-19 you might also want to read the following articles:
- COVID-19 – Possible risks during pregnancy: An interview with Doctor Dietmar Schlembach (24/03/2020)
- COVID-19 – Risks for preterm born infants: An interview with Professor Doctor Christoph Bührer (09/03/2020)
You can also find Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ ) about COVID-19 concerning maternal and newborn health on the website of GLANCE, the Global Alliance for Newborn Care, a new global initiative, founded and coordinated by EFCNI