Several Covid-19 cases among front-line healthcare workers may go undetected, according to new data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. After administering serology tests to 3,248 healthcare workers, the agency found that the majority of those who had antibodies indicating a previous infection had not been diagnosed with Covid-19.
The survey was conducted between April and June at 12 academic medical centers that are part of the Influenza Vaccine Effectiveness in the Critically Ill (IVY) Network.
Healthcare providers who worked directly with Covid-19 patients participated in the study, including nurses, physicians, nurse practitioners and respiratory therapists.
A total of 194 people, roughly 6% of the total, had antibodies indicating a previous SARS-Cov-2 infection. Those who wore masks had a lower rate of infection (6%) than those who didn’t (9%). It’s also worth noting that 12% of participants reported a shortage of personal protective equipment since February.
Healthcare workers were also asked if they had experienced any Covid-19 symptoms since February, and if they had been tested for the virus yet. Of those who had a positive antibody test, 29% said they hadn’t experienced any symptoms and 44% did not believe they previously had Covid-19. The majority, at 69%, said they had not been previously diagnosed with Covid-19.
The study had some limitations. For one, the researchers didn’t know whether infection happened in a hospital or a community setting. Healthcare providers who were not working either because of another illness or quarantine also did not participate in the survey, which might have affected the results.
Still, researchers highlighted a few clear takeaways. For one, they said both healthcare workers and patients should be wearing masks in clinical encounters. In the past several months, several healthcare workers have reported difficulty in accessing N95 masks, gowns, face shields and other protective equipment while caring for patients.
“These findings highlight the importance of maintaining PPE supplies at hospitals caring for Covid-19 patients and, assuming adequate supply, adhering to policies that encourage the use of masks for all interactions between (healthcare providers) and patients,” the study noted.
On top of that, researchers recommended having dedicated cohorts of healthcare providers caring for patients with Covid-19, and increased testing of frontline healthcare providers.
The fact that healthcare workers were only asked to come back to work after one negative Covid-19 test, not two, was part of a lawsuit against a hospital in Riverside County, Calif., where three of the plaintiffs were healthcare workers who were sick with Covid-19.
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