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CDC: COVID Seroprevalence in Health Care Workers

  • MMWR
Aug 31, 2020 2:23 pm

CDC reports that gmong 3,248 healthcare personnel (HCP) observed, 6% had antibody evidence of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection; 29% of personnel with SARS-CoV-2 antibodies were asymptomatic in the preceding months, and 69% had not previously received a diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infection. Prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies was lower among personnel who reported always wearing a face covering while caring for patients (6%), compared with those who did not (9%).

HCP caring for patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) might be at high risk for contracting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Understanding the prevalence of and factors associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection among frontline HCP who care for COVID-19 patients are important for protecting both HCP and their patients.

During April 3–June 19, 2020, serum specimens were collected from a convenience sample of frontline HCP who worked with COVID-19 patients at 13 geographically diverse academic medical centers in the United States, and specimens were tested for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. Participants were asked about potential symptoms of COVID-19 experienced since February 1, 2020, previous testing for acute SARS-CoV-2 infection, and their use of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the past week.

Among 3,248 participants, 194 (6.0%) had positive test results for SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Seroprevalence by hospital ranged from 0.8% to 31.2% (median = 3.6%). Among the 194 seropositive participants, 56 (29%) reported no symptoms since February 1, 2020, 86 (44%) did not believe that they previously had COVID-19, and 133 (69%) did not report a previous COVID-19 diagnosis.

Seroprevalence was lower among personnel who reported always wearing a face covering (defined in this study as a surgical mask, N95 respirator, or powered air purifying respirator [PAPR]) while caring for patients (5.6%), compared with that among those who did not (9.0%) (p = 0.012). Consistent with persons in the general population with SARS-CoV-2 infection, many frontline HCP with SARS-CoV-2 infection might be asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic during infection, and infection might be unrecognized. Enhanced screening, including frequent testing of frontline HCP, and universal use of face coverings in hospitals are two strategies that could reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission.

This study was conducted by the Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness in the Critically Ill (IVY) Network, which is a collaboration of academic medical centers in the United States conducting epidemiologic studies on influenza and COVID-19 (1). Thirteen IVY Network medical centers from 12 states participated.* Each hospital enrolled a convenience sample of HCP who regularly had direct patient contact in hospital-based units caring for adult COVID-19 patients since February 1, 2020, including emergency departments (EDs), intensive care units (ICUs), and hospital wards.

Targeted enrollment was 250 participants per hospital, and volunteers were enrolled during April 3–June 19. HCP who were not working because of illness or quarantine were not enrolled. Participants underwent phlebotomy for serum collection and answered survey questions about demographic characteristics, medical history, symptoms, previous clinical testing for acute SARS-CoV-2 infection, and PPE practices while caring for patients in areas with COVID-19 patients. Participants were classified as having symptoms of an acute viral illness if they reported any of the following signs or symptoms from February 1, 2020, until the enrollment date: fever (temperature >99.5°F [37.5°C]), cough, shortness of breath, myalgias, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea, or change in sense of taste or smell. Participants were asked whether they thought that they previously had COVID-19. Participants also self-reported PPE use in the past week and whether they personally experienced at least one episode of PPE shortage since February 1, 2020, defined as inability to access at least one of the following forms of PPE when it was wanted for patient care: surgical masks, N95 respirators, PAPRs, gowns, gloves, or face shields.

Participants were classified as having positive serology (i.e., SARS-CoV-2 antibodies detected at or above the threshold) or negative serology (i.e., SARS-CoV-2 antibodies below the threshold). Characteristics of the seropositive and seronegative groups were compared using Wilcoxon rank-sum tests for continuous variables and Pearson’s chi-squared tests or Fisher’s exact tests for categorical variables. Statistical analyses were conducted using Stata software (version 16; StataCorp). This activity was reviewed by the Institutional Review Boards at the participating medical centers and by CDC and was conducted consistent with applicable federal law and institutional policies.

Among 3,248 enrolled HCP, 1,445 (44%) were nurses, 919 (28%) were physicians, nurse practitioners, or physician assistants, 235 (7%) were respiratory therapists, and 648 (20%) had other clinical roles; the clinical role of one HCP was unknown. The median age of participants was 36 years, and most (80%) reported no underlying medical conditions. Among participants, 1,292 (40%) reported working primarily in an ICU, 1,139 (35%) primarily in an ED, and 817 (25%) primarily in other locations. Among the 3,248 participants, 194 (6.0%) had detectable SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. Seroprevalence varied widely by medical center, ranging from 0.8% (three facilities) to 31.2%, with generally higher seroprevalence at medical centers within counties with high local area community cumulative incidence of COVID-19 (Figure).


The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose related to this subject

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