Combined epidemiological and genomic analysis of nosocomial SARS-CoV-2 infection early in the pandemic and the role of unidentified cases in transmission

COVID-19 Genomics UK (COG-UK) Consortium, Samuel Robson

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Objectives: To analyse nosocomial transmission in the early stages of the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic at a large multisite healthcare institution. Nosocomial incidence is linked with infection control interventions.

Methods: Viral genome sequence and epidemiological data were analysed for 574 consecutive patients, including 86 nosocomial cases, with a positive PCR test for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) during the first 19 days of the pandemic.

Results: Forty-four putative transmission clusters were found through epidemiological analysis; these included 234 cases and all 86 nosocomial cases. SARS-CoV-2 genome sequences were obtained from 168/234 (72%) of these cases in epidemiological clusters, including 77/86 nosocomial cases (90%). Only 75/168 (45%) of epidemiologically linked, sequenced cases were not refuted by applying genomic data, creating 14 final clusters accounting for 59/77 sequenced nosocomial cases (77%). Viral haplotypes from these clusters were enriched 1-14x (median 4x) compared to the community. Three factors implicated unidentified cases in transmission: (a) community-onset or indeterminate cases were absent in 7/14 clusters (50%), (b) four clusters (29%) had additional evidence of cryptic transmission, and (c) in three clusters (21%) diagnosis of the earliest case was delayed, which may have facilitated transmission. Nosocomial cases decreased to low levels (0-2 per day) despite continuing high numbers of admissions of community-onset SARS-CoV-2 cases (40-50 per day) and before the impact of introducing universal face masks and banning hospital visitors.

Conclusion: Genomics was necessary to accurately resolve transmission clusters. Our data support unidentified cases-such as healthcare workers or asymptomatic patients-as important vectors of transmission. Evidence is needed to ascertain whether routine screening increases case ascertainment and limits nosocomial transmission.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Microbiology and Infection
Issue number1
Early online date20 Dec 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2022


  • COVID-19/epidemiology
  • cross infection/epidemiology
  • disease outbreaks
  • genome, viral
  • genomics
  • hospitals
  • humans
  • pandemics
  • SARS-CoV-2/genetics


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