First reported nosocomial outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) in a pediatric dialysis unit

Clin Infect Dis. 2020 Apr 27;ciaa491. doi: 10.1093/cid/ciaa491. Online ahead of print.


Background: Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a life-threatening respiratory condition caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and was initially detected in China in December 2019. Currently, in Germany over 140,000 cases of COVID-19 are confirmed. Here we report a nosocomial outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 infections in the pediatric dialysis unit of the University Hospital of Münster (UHM).

Methods: Single-step real-time RT-PCR from nasopharyngeal swaps was used to diagnose the index patient and identify infected contacts. Epidemiological links were analyzed by patient interviews and chart reviews. In addition, each contact was assessed for exposure to the index case and monitored for clinical symptoms. Threshold cycle (Ct) values of all positive test results were compared between symptomatic and asymptomatic cases.

Results: Forty-eight cases were involved in this nosocomial outbreak. Nine contact cases developed laboratory confirmed COVID-19 infections. Two SARS-CoV-2 positive cases remained clinically asymptomatic. Eleven cases reported flu-like symptoms without positive results. Ct values were significantly lower in cases presenting typical COVID-19 symptoms, suggesting high viral shedding (p =0.007).

Conclusion: Person-to-person transmission was at the heart of a hospital outbreak of SARS-CoV-2 between healthcare workers (HCWs) and patients in the pediatric dialysis unit at the UHM. Semi quantitative real-time RT-PCR results suggest that individuals with high viral load pose a risk to spread SARS-CoV-2 in the hospital setting. Our epidemiological observation highlights the need to develop strategies to trace and monitor SARS-CoV-2 infected HCWs in order to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks in the hospital setting.

Keywords: COVID-19; exposure-based risk classification; infection control measures; nosocomial SARS-CoV-2 outbreak; super-spreader.