Study: First Wave COVID-19 Infection Rates in Health Care Workers Reflected General Population

COVID-19 infections in health care workers during the first wave of the pandemic provided an accurate sample of infection rates in the general population, according to a study published in PLOS ONE. The authors of the study said this finding suggests that data from health care workers could be used to estimate the severity of future viruses more quickly.

The researchers analyzed the infection data from health care workers and the progression of the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak using the reported daily infection numbers in Ireland. By using similar data from Germany, the United Kingdom, South Korea, and Iceland, computer models were able to show how the disease progressed in different countries relative to their approach to testing, tracing, and lockdown restrictions.

In Ireland, health care workers made up 31.6% of all test-confirmed infections while only consisting of 3% of the population. After using software to create a more accurate picture of how widespread the disease was, the researchers found that the health care worker data closely reflected the infection rate among the entire population.

“As we have seen with the COVID-19 pandemic, implementing countermeasures early can save lives and reduce the spread of the disease,” said Donal O’Shea, PhD, in a press release. “However, wide-scale testing can take time to set up, delaying decisions and costing lives. While the healthcare population is no longer an accurate sample of the general population for COVID-19 due to different vaccination rates, governments could use data from their healthcare worker population to make informed decisions on what measures to implement earlier when future viruses emerge.”

The study noted that very few nations were able to set up effective systems that tested the entire population, carried out contact tracing, and quarantined those infected with COVID-19.

“Setting up wide-scale testing systems for healthcare workers is much easier than setting up a similar program for everyone since the infrastructure for testing for diseases is always in place in healthcare settings,” said Dan Wu, PhD, in the release. “A screening program that tested all healthcare workers would have the additional benefit of catching asymptomatic spread of the disease since all healthcare workers would be tested. If governments could catch highly infectious diseases and implement countermeasures early, this could possibly prevent new viruses from erupting into another epidemic/pandemic.”

REFERENCE

Screening healthcare workers could serve as early warning system for future viruses [news release]. EurekAlert; May 3, 2021. Accessed May 3, 2021. https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-05/r-shw043021.php