On 31 December 2019, the World Health Organization receives notification of the first cases of pneumonia of unknown etiology detected in Hubei province.1 Shortly after, the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic is declared, a global health crisis that will break the health systems implemented to date from their foundations.
Within the broad health impact caused, gynecological surgery joins the readjustment process in respect of which, multiple societies establish consensus for action.
The five pillars of this process, the five steps towards resilience of a gynecological surgery that grows strong in the face of a world crisis, are described below.
The first step is prioritization of surgical indications that require it, given the reserve of resources and infrastructure to cover the needs generated by care burden. It is a dynamically modified process depending on the epidemiological alert status.
Regarding COVID-19 positive patients without criteria for urgent surgery, a consensus is established on the postponement of surgery until the disappearance of the infection because of higher rates of mortality.5,6 Results from pilot studies suggest delaying the surgery for at least 4 weeks after a positive SARS-COV-2 test.7
Highest priority to gynecological emergencies and urgencies.
High priority to oncological pathology: with the exception of certain advanced stages with the possibility of neoadjuvant treatment.
Low priority or elective surgery: benign pathology with failure of conservative treatments.
In the current period of reintroduction of elective surgery, guidelines that also contemplate the management of benign pathology have been developed.
In the consensus made by
•Level 1: Low severity. Benign adnexal masses, controlled endometriosis, asymptomatic fibroids, abnormal uterine bleeding with low suspicion of malignancy and without anemia...
■A: Healthy patients.
■B: Risk patients according to ASA.
•Level 2: Intermediate severity. Symptomatic benign cysts, uncontrolled endometriosis, symptomatic fibroids, abnormal uterine bleeding with anemia, endometrial polyps if >50 years...
■A: Healthy patients.
■B: Risk patients according to ASA. In case of high epidemiological risk, consider prioritizing level 1A.
•Level 3: High severity. Suspicion of malignancy, deep endometriosis, bleeding with hemodynamic involvement...
■A: Healthy patients.
■B: Risk patients according to ASA. In case of high epidemiological risk, consider prioritizing level 2A.
•Level 4: Gynecological emergencies that cannot be postponed.
Level 1A (Emergencies, <24 hours): Ovarian torsion, sepsis originating from the genital tract, trauma to the genital tract, intra-abdominal bleeding, hemodynamically unstable miscarriage, unstable ectopic pregnancy, obstetric emergencies.
Level 1B (Urgencies, <72 hours): Pelvic or tubo-ovarian abscesses that do not respond to antibiotic therapy, postoperative complications, stable ectopic pregnancy without hemoperitoneum, abortions that require surgical treatment.
Level 2 (<4 weeks): Suspected or confirmed malignancy.
Level 3 (<3 months): Fibroids causing anemia with failure of medical treatment, endometriosis with intestinal involvement or ureteral obstruction, uncontrolled endometriosis, hysterectomy due to abnormal bleeding and failure of medical treatment.
Level 4 (>3 months): Tubal surgery, superficial or deep endometriosis without intestinal involvement or ureteral obstruction, fibroids without anemia, hysterectomy for abnormal uterine bleeding, benign ovarian cysts.
There is much debate regarding the choice of the best surgical approach during the COVID-19 pandemic, since laparoscopy and robotic assistance are considered possible aerosol-generating procedures (AGP).
Airway: through the generation of aerosols and surgical smoke, which by extrapolation of data from other infections, could contain viral particles.
Blood contact: presence of viral RNA in blood in 1~15% of patients.
The high infectivity of peritoneal f luids has also been recently
described, where high concentrations of viral RNA have been detected, even more than in naso or oropharyngeal exudates.14
Despite controversies generated regarding risk of aerosolization, the available evidence is scarce, and the minimally invasive approach has been considered of choice by various scientific societies for most indications in gynecology (Table 3).15,16
As an exception to this, and given the greater probability of viral presence in the digestive tube due to aspiration of nasopharyngeal secretions, there is consensus on the recommendation of an open approach in cases of surgery with intestinal involvement (endometriosis of the rectovaginal septum, tubo-ovarian abscesses...).17,18
On the other hand, there are authors who refer to a greater safety of robot assisted surgery compared to laparoscopy: need for lower intra-abdominal CO2 pressures for optimal vision, need for fewer staff in the operating room, more physical distance to the patient (Table 4).19
Given the nature of the aerosol-generating procedure associated with the creation of pneumoperitoneum, there is consensus on adopting multiple precautions to reduce exposure to CO2 and surgical smoke.5,20
Moments of greatest risk of transmission are those related to the dispersion of aerosols:
-Creation and desufflation of pneumoperitoneum.
-Placement and removal of trocars.
With all of the above, some mandatory rules and other specific recommendations have been implemented in our environment during the course of laparoscopic and robotic assisted surgery (Table 5):
-Selective use of electrosurgical devices in order to minimize the production of smoke, with low-power setting and reduced cutting and coagulation times. Avoid using an ultrasonic scalpel (aerosol generation).
-Incorporation of evacuation and filtering systems with capacity to contain microaerosols.
-Evacuation of pneumoperitoneum with laparoscopic suction before trocars and specimen extraction.
-Minimize pneumoperitoneal pressures (10~12 mmHg). Greater capacity of such decrease in robotic surgery.
-Use of high-capacity access ports to keep the pneumoperitoneum sealed. Balloon trocars are of choice.
In gynecological surgery, special precaution before the extraction of large surgical specimens. The European Society for Gyneacological Endoscopy, warns about the significant dispersion of CO2 during laparoscopic hysterectomy.18
o Clinical and epidemiological evaluation of all patients awaiting prompt surgery, without need for physical presence and not dependent on the alert state of the population:
◆Questionnaire about contact with positive cases in the last 14 days. Physical distancing and protection measures are recommended during the two weeks prior to admission.
◆Questionnaire about suspicious signs and symptoms according to the World Health Organization: fever, dry cough, tiredness, shortness of breath, muscle aches, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting21...
Repeating both screenings is recommended in the 48~72 hour period prior to surgery.
o Microbiological evaluation conditioned by the local alert state. The collection of nasopharyngeal exudate and PCR is established as the test of choice, with a high specificity. Sample collection is recommended within 72 hours prior to surgery.
◆Alert state II or higher and high risk patient: clinicalepidemiological and microbiological screening.
◆Alert state I and intermediate risk patient: clinical-epidemiological screening.
◆Alert state I and low risk patient: clinical-epidemiological screening without need for repetition in the 72 hours prior to surgery.
The routine use of analytical and imaging tests is not recommended. On the other hand, serological tests are proposed in cases of suspected active infection with PCR negativity, without a clear indication, pending studies that currently seem to reveal encouraging results regarding their usefulness.22,23
Use of adapted personal protective equipment according to screening results and physical proximity to the patient. Furthermore, the need to limit the number of persons in the operating room is highlighted.
◊“Bedside assistants”: Level III protection. Work uniform, surgical cap, well-fitted medical protective mask FFP2/3, long-sleeved latex gowns and gloves, full-face respiratory protective devices.
◊Surgeon at console: Level II protection. Work uniform, surgical cap, well-fitted medical protective mask FFP2/3, longsleeved latex gowns and gloves, goggles.
Laparoscopy finds an essential role in the establishment of gynecological surgery in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, being easily integrated into it by the five steps towards its resilience: prioritization, minimal invasion, optimization, screening and protection.
Conceptualization: Francisco Javier García Santos, Mónica Bellón del Amo. Formal analysis: Inés Gil Prados. Methodology: Inés Gil Prados, Francisco Javier García Santos. Writing–original draft: Ines Gil Prados, Francisco Javier Garcia Santos. Writing–review and editing: Inés Gil Prados, Rebeca Ruiz Román.