Healthcare Providers Rarely Catch COVID-19 on the Job

By Reuters Staff

April 22, 2021

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Healthcare workers on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States rarely become infected with SARS-CoV-2 through patient care, new research suggests.

Researchers evaluated SARS-CoV-2 infections in a group of healthcare personnel (HCP) and found that most infections could not be linked to a patient or co-worker - suggesting that good adherence to infection-control procedures offer significant protection to HCP caring for COVID-19 patients.

In this retrospective case series, Dr. Thomas Friedrich and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, used viral sequencing to investigate the likely source of SARS-CoV-2 infection in HCP at a major academic medical institution.

They combined epidemiological information with healthcare-associated viral sequences and with viral sequences collected in the broader community to determine the most likely source of infection in HCP.

They analyzed 95 HCP SARS-CoV-2 infection clusters and 137 possible patient contact sequences; 55 of the HCP infections (58%) could not be linked to a patient or co-worker and were genetically similar to viruses circulating in the community at the time.

Only 10 (11%) of HCP infections could be traced to a coworker and "strikingly" only four (4%) of HCP infections could be traced to a patient, the researchers report in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

They note that their observations are in line with recent studies evaluating healthcare-associated infections in the Netherlands and in the U.K. and are further supported by another recent study which found the most important risk factor for SARS-CoV-2 infection in HCP was cumulative COVID-19 incidence in surrounding communities, not workplace factors.

"Though we cannot rule out the possibility of cryptic healthcare-associated transmission, it appears that HCP most commonly becomes infected with SARS-CoV-2 via community exposure. This emphasizes the ongoing importance of mask-wearing, physical distancing, robust testing programs, and rapid distribution of vaccines," Dr. Friedrich and colleagues conclude.

SOURCE: Clinical Infectious Diseases, online April 15, 2021.