Surface Testing for SARS-CoV-2 in Hematology, Oncology Settings Finds Negligible Detection

Aislinn Antrim, Assistant Editor

Study findings suggest that enhanced cleaning and disinfecting policies are effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19.

Researchers from Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey found extremely low levels of SARS-CoV-2 on environmental surfaces across multiple outpatient and inpatient oncology spaces, suggesting effective sanitation protocols may already be in place.

Patients with hematologic malignancies have demonstrated potentially higher SARS-CoV-2 mortality due to their immunocompromising condition, according to a press release. Although COVID-19 is transmitted person to person through respiratory droplets, earlier research has hypothesized that there is a potential spreading risk via contact with contaminated surfaces and equipment, especially in health care settings. If true, this risk would create an additional concern for hematology patients.

“For patients with blood cancers who may be at higher risk of developing complications from the virus, our findings provide a layer of assurance that these patients are safe when frequenting high impact areas where they receive their cancer care,” said senior author Andrew Evens, DO, MSc, FACP, associate director for clinical services and director of the lymphoma program at Rutgers Cancer Institute, in the press release.

Researchers conducted environmental swabbing in 2 outpatient clinics, including the malignant hematology and medical oncology units, infusion suites, and inpatient areas. The inpatient areas included a unit caring for people actively infected with COVID-19. Surfaces were sampled on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays between June 17 and June 29, 2020.

Surfaces included waiting rooms, infusion areas, bathrooms, floors, elevator banks, doors, exam rooms, computer equipment, pneumatic tubing stations, pharmacy benches, and medication rooms. Medical equipment was also swabbed, including intravenous poles, chemotherapy bags, vitals monitors, telemetry stations, and linen carts.

The analysis of the 130 samples were separated into 3 categories: patient and public areas (85 samples), staff areas (22 samples), and medical equipment (23). In the 2 outpatient clinics and in the inpatient leukemia, lymphoma, and chimeric antigen receptor T-cell therapy unit, no SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected on any swabbed surfaces. In the inpatient COVID-19 unit, 1 patient and public sample was positive for SARS-CoV-2 RNA in an area where a patient with a recent infection was receiving treatment.

The overall positive test rate for SARS-CoV-2 RNA across all surfaces in the combined outpatient and inpatient hematology and oncology units was a low 0.5%. Based on these results, the investigators said sanitation strategies in these facilities seem to be very effective.

“The results of this study help us further understand how COVID-19 is transmitted in hematology/oncology and other medical settings and confirm that strategies like enhanced cleaning and disinfecting policies are extremely effective,” Evens concluded in the press release.

REFERENCE

Extremely Low Levels of Coronavirus Detected on Surfaces in Oncology Facilities, Study Finds [news release]. Rutgers University; February 18, 2021. https://www.rutgers.edu/news/extremely-low-levels-coronavirus-detected-surfaces-oncology-facilities-study-finds. Accessed February 23, 2021.