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Japanese prefectures with more public health nurses had lower COVID morbidity: study

This electron microscope photo provided by the National Institute of Infectious Diseases shows the coronavirus isolated at the facility. (Photo Courtesy of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases)

NARA -- The more public health nurses there are per population in a prefecture, the less COVID-19 morbidity, according to a study by Nara Medical University.

    A group of scientists led by Kimiko Tomioka at the university's Nara Prefectural Health Research Center announced their findings on May 10. They claimed that the study has indicated that "increasing the public health nurse population can help contain the spread of the virus in Japan."

    The group used data including the number of public health nurses per 100,000 people in each of Japan's 47 prefectures as well as the COVID-19 morbidity -- a rate of an accumulating total number of infections per 100,000 prefectural residents -- by the end of September 2021. The 47 prefectures were divided into five groups in descending order of their public health nurse population, and the group looked at the correlation between the nurse numbers and the morbidity in the prefecture, while making sure that effects of the population density, believed to be related to coronavirus outbreaks, would not affect the analysis.

    As a result, the scientists claim that the groups with more public health nurses had lower morbidity compared to the groups with fewer public health nurses. While prefecture by prefecture data showed that some of them exhibited trends slightly off from their analysis, Shimane Prefecture, which has the highest population of public health nurses, or 79.3 per 100,000 residents, had the second lowest COVID-19 morbidity. Meanwhile, Kanagawa Prefecture, which has the lowest number of public health nurses (23.5) per 100,000 had the fourth highest morbidity in Japan. Nara Prefecture has the 11th lowest figure of public health nurses, or 41 per 100,000 residents, and had 11th highest coronavirus morbidity.

    The scientist group indicated two possibilities regarding the result: one is that rigorous epidemiological studies done by public health nurses working at public health centers allowed for early detection and responses when dealing with infection clusters, helping prevent the spread of the virus. The other possibility is that in areas where public health nurses, including those who work at municipal governments, are actively engaged, more residents are interested in health care. They have more opportunities to have access to health information, leading them to take preventive measures against the virus, therefore avoiding the infection spread.

    Nara Medical University's specially appointed associate professor Tomioka said, "The study shows that public health nurses are valuable resources in preventing the spread of the coronavirus and other emerging infectious diseases."

    (Japanese original by Satoshi Kubo, Nara Bureau)

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