JOURNAL ARTICLE

Screening of healthcare workers for SARS-CoV-2 highlights the role of asymptomatic carriage in COVID-19 transmission

Lucy Rivett, Sushmita Sridhar, Dominic Sparkes, Matthew Routledge, Nick K Jones, Sally Forrest, Jamie Young, Joana Pereira-Dias, William L Hamilton, Mark Ferris, M Estee Torok, Luke Meredith, Martin D Curran, Stewart Fuller, Afzal Chaudhry, Ashley Shaw, Richard J Samworth, John R Bradley, Gordon Dougan, Kenneth Gc Smith, Paul J Lehner, Nicholas J Matheson, Giles Wright, Ian G Goodfellow, Stephen Baker, Michael P Weekes
ELife 2020 May 11, 9
32392129
Significant differences exist in the availability of healthcare worker (HCW) SARS-CoV-2 testing between countries, and existing programmes focus on screening symptomatic rather than asymptomatic staff. Over a 3 week period (April 2020), 1032 asymptomatic HCWs were screened for SARS-CoV-2 in a large UK teaching hospital. Symptomatic staff and symptomatic household contacts were additionally tested. Real-time RT-PCR was used to detect viral RNA from a throat+nose self-swab. 3% of HCWs in the asymptomatic screening group tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. 17/30 (57%) were truly asymptomatic/pauci-symptomatic. 12/30 (40%) had experienced symptoms compatible with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)>7 days prior to testing, most self-isolating, returning well. Clusters of HCW infection were discovered on two independent wards. Viral genome sequencing showed that the majority of HCWs had the dominant lineage B∙1. Our data demonstrates the utility of comprehensive screening of HCWs with minimal or no symptoms. This approach will be critical for protecting patients and hospital staff.

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