Assessment of Air Contamination by SARS-CoV-2 in Hospital Settings

In this systematic review of current evidence on air contamination with SARS-CoV-2 in hospital settings, the air close to and distant from patients with COVID-19 was frequently contaminated with SARS-CoV-2 RNA; however, few of these samples contained viable viruses. High viral loads found in toilets and bathrooms, staff areas and public hallways suggest that these areas should be carefully considered.

Controversy remains regarding the transmission routes of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). Birgand, et al. (2020) sought to review current evidence on air contamination with SARS-CoV-2 in hospital settings and the factors associated with contamination, including viral load and particle size.

The positivity rate of SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA and culture were described and compared according to the setting, clinical context, air ventilation system, and distance from patients. The SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in copies per meter cubed of air were pooled, and their distribution was described by hospital areas. Particle sizes and SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations in copies or median tissue culture infectious dose (TCID50) per meter cubed were analyzed after categorization as less than 1 μm, from 1 to 4 μm, and greater than 4 μm.

Among 2284 records identified, 24 cross-sectional observational studies were included in the review. Overall, 82 of 471 air samples (17.4%) from close patient environments were positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA, with a significantly higher positivity rate in intensive care unit settings (intensive care unit, 27 of 107 [25.2%] vs non–intensive care unit, 39 of 364 [10.7%]; P < .001). There was no difference according to the distance from patients (≤1 m, 3 of 118 [2.5%] vs >1-5 m, 13 of 236 [5.5%]; P = .22). The positivity rate was 5 of 21 air samples (23.8%) in toilets, 20 of 242 (8.3%) in clinical areas, 15 of 122 (12.3%) in staff areas, and 14 of 42 (33.3%) in public areas. A total of 81 viral cultures were performed across 5 studies, and 7 (8.6%) from 2 studies were positive, all from close patient environments. The median (interquartile range) SARS-CoV-2 RNA concentrations varied from 1.0 × 103 copies/m3 (0.4 × 103 to 3.1 × 103 copies/m3) in clinical areas to 9.7 × 103 copies/m3 (5.1 × 103 to 14.3 × 103 copies/m3) in the air of toilets or bathrooms. Protective equipment removal and patient rooms had high concentrations per titer of SARS-CoV-2 (varying from 0.9 × 103 to 40 × 103 copies/m3 and 3.8 × 103 to 7.2 × 103 TCID50/m3), with aerosol size distributions that showed peaks in the region of particle size less than 1 μm; staff offices had peaks in the region of particle size greater than 4 μm.

Reference: Birgand G, et al. Assessment of Air Contamination by SARS-CoV-2 in Hospital Settings. JAMA Netw Open. 2020;3(12):e2033232. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.33232

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