Researchers Explore Role of Routine SARS-CoV-2 Screening of Healthcare Workers in 2020

Jab, et al. (2022) note that healthcare workers (HCWs) are at increased risk of infection with SARS-CoV-2. Vulnerable patient populations in particular must be protected, and clinics should not become transmission hotspots to avoid delaying medical treatments independent of COVID. Because asymptomatic transmission has been described, routine screening of asymptomatic HCWs would potentially be able to interrupt chains of infection through early detection.

The researchers conducted a systematic search in the Cochrane COVID-19 Study Register, Web of Science and WHO COVID‐19 Global literature on coronavirus with regard to non-incident related testing of healthcare workers using polymerase chain reaction on May 4, 2021. Studies since January 2020 were included. An assessment of risk of bias and representativeness was performed.

The search identified 39 studies with heterogeneous designs. Data collection of the included studies took place from January to August 2020. The studies were conducted worldwide and the sample size of the included HCW ranged from 70 to 9449 participants. In total, 1000 of 51,700 (1.9%) asymptomatic HCW were tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 using PCR testing. The proportion of positive test results ranged between 0 and 14.3%. No study reported on HCW-screening related reductions in infected person-days.

The researchers say the heterogeneous proportions might be explained by different regional incidences, lock-downs, and pre-analytical pitfalls that reduce the sensitivity of the nasopharyngeal swab. The very high prevalence in some studies indicates that screening HCWs for SARS-CoV-2 may be important particularly in geographical regions and pandemic periods with a high-incidence. With low numbers and an increasing rate of vaccinated HCWs, a strict cost–benefit consideration must be made, especially in times of low incidences. Since we found no studies that reported on HCW-screening related reductions in infected person-days, re-evaluation should be done when these are available.

Reference: Jabs JM, et al. The role of routine SARS-CoV-2 screening of healthcare-workers in acute care hospitals in 2020: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Infectious Diseases. Vol. 22, article number 587 (2022).