Prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 Infection in Previously Undiagnosed Healthcare Workers at the onset of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Barrett, et al. (2020) say that healthcare workers (HCWs) are presumed to be at increased risk of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) infection due to occupational exposure to infected patients. However, there has been little epidemiological research to assess these risks.

The researchers conducted a prospective cohort study of HCW (n = 546) and non-healthcare workers (NHCW; n = 283) with no known prior SARS-CoV-2 infection who were recruited from a large U.S. university and two affiliated university hospitals. In this cross-sectional analysis of data collected at baseline, they examined SARS-CoV-2 infection status (as determined by presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in oropharyngeal swabs) by healthcare worker status and role.

At baseline, 41 (5.0%) of the participants tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 infection, of whom 14 (34.2%) reported symptoms. The prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection was higher among HCW (7.3%) than in NHCW (0.4%), representing a 7.0% greater absolute risk (95% confidence interval for risk difference 4.7, 9.3%). The majority of infected HCW (62.5%) were nurses. Positive tests increased across the two weeks of cohort recruitment in line with rising confirmed cases in the hospitals and surrounding counties.

The researchers say their results demonstrate that HCWs had a higher prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection than NHCWs. Continued follow-up of this cohort will enable us to monitor infection rates and examine risk factors for transmission.

Reference: Barrett ES, Horton DB, et al. Prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection in previously undiagnosed health care workers in New Jersey, at the onset of the U.S. COVID-19 pandemic. BMC Infectious Diseases. Vol. 20, No. 853. 2020.

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