Asymptomatic COVID-19 Patients Can Contaminate Their Surroundings: an Environment Sampling Study

mSphere. 2020 Jun 24;5(3):e00442-20. doi: 10.1128/mSphere.00442-20.


The contamination of patients' surroundings by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) remains understudied. We sampled the surroundings and the air of six negative-pressure non-intensive care unit (non-ICU) rooms in a designated isolation ward in Chengdu, China, that were occupied by 13 laboratory-confirmed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) patients who had returned from overseas travel, including 2 asymptomatic patients. A total of 44 of 112 (39.3%) surface samples were positive for SARS-CoV-2 as detected by real-time PCR, suggesting extensive contamination, although all of the air samples were negative. In particular, in a single room occupied by an asymptomatic patient, four sites were SARS-CoV-2 positive, highlighting that asymptomatic COVID-19 patients do contaminate their surroundings and impose risks for others with close contact. Placement of COVID-19 patients in rooms with negative pressure may bring a false feeling of safety, and the importance of rigorous environment cleaning should be emphasized.IMPORTANCE Although it has been well recognized that the virus SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, can be acquired by exposure to fomites, surprisingly, the contamination of patients' surroundings by SARS-CoV-2 is largely unknown, as there have been few studies. We performed an environmental sampling study for 13 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 patients and found extensive contamination of patients' surroundings. In particular, we found that asymptomatic COVID-19 patients contaminated their surroundings and therefore imposed risks for other people. Environment cleaning should be emphasized in negative-pressure rooms. The findings may be useful to guide infection control practice to protect health care workers.

Keywords: COVID-19; SARS-CoV-2; environmental contamination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Asymptomatic Infections / epidemiology*
  • Betacoronavirus / isolation & purification*
  • COVID-19
  • Containment of Biohazards / methods
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / pathology
  • Environment
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / pathology
  • SARS-CoV-2