Secondary attack rate of COVID-19 in household contacts: a systematic review

QJM. 2020 Dec 1;113(12):841-850. doi: 10.1093/qjmed/hcaa232.


Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a novel virus with continuously evolving transmission trends. Contact tracing and quarantining of positive cases are chief strategies of disease control that has been accepted globally, though scientific knowledge regarding household transmission of the COVID-19 through contact of positive case is sparse. Current systematic review was planned to assess global statistics and characteristics of household secondary attack rate (SAR) of COVID-19. Eligible articles were retrieved through search of-MEDLINE, SCOPUS and EMBASE for the period December 2019 to 15 June 2020. Search terms were developed to identify articles reporting household SARs in various countries. After initial screening of 326 articles, 13 eligible studies were included in the final evidence synthesis. We found that SAR varies widely across countries with lowest reported rate as 4.6% and highest as 49.56%. The rates were unaffected by confounders such as population of the country, lockdown status and geographic location. Review suggested greater vulnerability of spouse and elderly population for secondary transmission than other household members. It was also observed that quarantining and isolation are most effective strategies for prevention of the secondary transmission of the disease. Symptomatic status of the index case emerged to be a critical factor, with very low transmission probability during asymptomatic phase. Present review findings recommend that adequate measures should be provided to protect the vulnerable population as only case tracing and quarantining might be insufficient. It should be combined with advisory for limiting household contacts and active surveillance for symptom onset.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / transmission*
  • Community-Acquired Infections / transmission*
  • Community-Acquired Infections / virology
  • Family Characteristics*
  • Family Health*
  • Humans
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2