Healthcare workers more likely to get COVID-19 antibodies in community than on job, study suggests

Community exposure to COVID-19 appears to be a bigger source of antibody positivity for healthcare workers than exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace, according to a study published March 10 in JAMA Network Open.

For the 2020 study, researchers examined data on 24,952 healthcare workers from Emory Healthcare in Atlanta, Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine, University of Maryland Medical System and Rush University System for Health in Chicago.

The study did not find a clear link between workplace contact with COVID-19 patients and antibody positivity but found community contact with COVID-19 was associated with a higher risk of antibody positivity.

Data came from COVID-19 antibody test results, questionnaire results on community and workplace exposures at the time of antibody tests, and ZIP code prefixes. Most participants reported workplace contact with COVID-19 patients (50.2 percent), and many worked in the inpatient setting (35.9 percent) and were nurses (31.6 percent).

Overall, the positivity rate for COVID-19 antibodies was 4.4 percent, across multiple, geographically diverse organizations. 

Researchers said contact with an infected person in the community was highly associated with antibody positivity, along with living in a ZIP code with a greater number of COVID-19 infections. None of the assessed workplace factors, including role, setting and contact with known COVID-19 patients, was associated with antibody positivity.

"Factors presumed to contribute most to infection risk among healthcare providers, including caring for COVID-19 patients, were not associated with increased risk in this study," study co-author Sujan Reddy MD, an infectious disease specialist at the CDC, said in a March 10 news release. "The highest risks to healthcare workers may be from exposures in the community."

The authors concluded that current infection prevention practices in diverse healthcare settings are effective in preventing COVID-19 transmission from patients to healthcare workers. They acknowledged some caveats, however, including that the study could not determine the effectiveness level of personal protective equipment or whether certain infection control practices were better than others in preventing spread.

To view the full study, click here


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