COVID-19 viral load high in patient bathrooms, research shows

An analysis of global research shows that patient bathrooms, staff and public areas of hospitals contain high amounts of SARS-CoV-2 in the air, although the infectivity of these samples is still unclear.

Researchers at the University Hospital Centre Nantes in France conducted a systematic review of 17 research articles on the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 in hospital settings published between December 2019 and July 21. 

Overall, 27.5 percent of air samples from patient environments were positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA, with little variation seen between intensive care unit and non-ICU settings. Only 1.5 percent of air samples taken from less than 1 meter away from the patient tested positive for SARS-CoV-2.

The positivity rate was 23.8 percent in patient toilets, 9.5 percent in clinical areas, 12.4 percent in staff areas and 34.1 percent in public areas. Median virus concentrations were 10 times higher in patient toilets than in patient rooms, study authors found.

Attempts to culture these samples did not successfully produce a viable virus, meaning there is little evidence the samples could cause COVID-19 infection in people. 

"High viral loads found in toilet/bathrooms, staff and public hallways means these areas require strong compliance with cleaning measures and personal protective equipment," researchers concluded.

The research was presented at the European Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases' COVID-19 conference this week. 


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