By Ethan Covey

Transmission of COVID-19 in the hospital setting appears to be rare, said researchers who reviewed the spread of the disease among hospitalized patients in the Northeast during the spring surge.

“We know that many patients have been avoiding essential care due to fear of contracting COVID-19 in health care settings,” said Chanu Rhee, MD, an infectious disease physician and intensivist and associate hospital epidemiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston, who reported the results at the IDWeek 2020 virtual meeting (abstract 2).

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However, little research has been done to determine how well hospitals prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. “The adequacy of U.S. infection control practices to prevent nosocomial transmission of COVID-19 to patients in acute care hospitals is unknown,” Rhee added.

Rhee and his colleagues conducted a study focused on patient admissions to Brigham and Women’s Hospital from March 7 through May 30. Medical records were reviewed for all patients who tested positive for COVID-19 on hospital day 3 or later or within 14 days of hospital discharge to determine whether their infection was hospital- or community-acquired.

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A total of 697 patients were confirmed to have COVID-19 during the study period, only 12 of whom (1.7%) were diagnosed on hospital day 3 or later, and, therefore, deemed to be nosocomial transmission. Examination of this group revealed that only one patient had likely acquired the infection while in the hospital. And it was thought that this patient probably was infected by contact with his presymptomatic spouse, who was visiting daily and diagnosed with COVID-19 before visitor restrictions were implemented.

The researchers hope the findings will help people and health care providers feel more comfortable with the level of safety found in hospitals with rigorous infection control measures. “Transparency around nosocomial COVID-19 rates could provide confidence and reassurance to patients concerned about their risk of acquiring infection in the hospital,” Rhee said.