Nurses have highest prevalence of COVID-19 infection, study says

The rates of COVID-19 infection are the greatest among health care workers compared to people who don’t work in the industry, but a new study has also found that nurses are the ones who have the highest frequency of contracting the disease.

Rutgers University researchers have conducted a study of participants at the state-owned medical center and affiliated hospitals recruited during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The university released baseline results from the large prospective review on Monday.

The study assessed 546 health care workers with direct patient exposure at two New Jersey hospitals and 283 employees who didn’t work in health care and had no direct patient contact.

It found that nurses were the participants most likely to test positive for COVID-19 along with workers looking after multiple patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, as well as staff who worked in a hospital with a greater amount of infected patients.

At the beginning of the study, 40 health care workers and one non-health care worker tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, infection. Over 7% of health care workers tested positive for the coronavirus compared to the incredibly low positive testing rates among non-health care workers. The findings also showed the same disparities in the general public regarding the higher rates of positive results among Black and Hispanic participants.

Twenty-five of the 40 infected health care workers were nurses while the lowest rates of infections came from staff in the intensive care unit. It’s possible that more consistent use of personal protective equipment, or PPE, led to the lower prevalence of infection among ICU workers.

Health care workers were more likely to test positive for COVID-19 if they reported caring for at least five patients who were speculated or confirmed to have the disease, along with workers who spent a greater quantity of time in their patients’ rooms.

“We have all heard about how health care workers are the heroes on the frontlines of this pandemic, but we still don’t have solid answers about the risks to health care workers and who is most at risk,” associate professor of biostatistics and epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health and lead co-author Emily Barrett said in a statement. “The initial results show that at the beginning of the pandemic, the higher rate of infection observed in urban northern New Jersey areas, like Newark, was also reflected in the health care workers serving those communities.”

Lead co-author Daniel Horton, who is an assistant professor of pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and assistant professor of epidemiology at Rutgers School of Public Health, added “the baseline data reported have helped us to monitor the spread of infection and examine risk factors for transmission among health care workers and others.

“These findings and our ongoing follow-up of study participants have informed local strategies to protect the health care workforce, their families and their patients.”