A systematic review of viral transmission risk to healthcare staff comparing laparoscopic and open surgery

Surgeon. 2020 Dec;18(6):e72-e77. doi: 10.1016/j.surge.2020.06.016. Epub 2020 Jul 17.


Background: Throughout the United Kingdom, there have been sweeping changes to the practice of medicine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. For the surgical speciality, there have been changes to both elective and emergency practice. Concern regarding potential aerosolisation during invasive procedures have been raised - including the use of pneumoperitoneum to facilitate laparoscopy. The aim of this study is to systematically review the data available to date regarding the potential risk posed to theatre staff by laparoscopy.

Method: A systematic review and meta-analysis was carried out in accordance with PRISMA guidelines. Only publications in peer-reviewed journals were considered. PubMed, Ovid Embase, SCOPUS, and Cochrane Library were searched. The search period was between 1st January 1980 and 27th April 2020. Bias was assessed using the ROBINS-I tool.

Results: 4209 records were identified, resulting in 9 unique studies being selected. The included studies examined viral DNA aerosoliation generated by electrosurgery and CO2 laser ablation, with one study examining viral DNA aerosolisation following laparoscopy. Each of these demonstrated that viral DNA (Hepatitis B Virus and Human Papilloma Virus) was detectable in the surgical smoke plume.

Conclusion: The data and analysis reported in this study reflect the most up-to-date evidence available for the surgeon to assess risk towards healthcare staff. It was constrained by heterogeneity of reporting for several outcomes and lack of comparable studies. There is currently insufficient data to recommend open or a minimally invasive surgical approach with regard to theatre team safety in the COVID-19 era.

Keywords: COVID-19; Infectious disease transmission; Viruses.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Humans
  • Infection Control
  • Infectious Disease Transmission, Patient-to-Professional*
  • Laparoscopy / adverse effects*
  • Pandemics
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Risk Assessment
  • SARS-CoV-2