Risk of SARS-CoV-2 Transmission During Flexible Laryngoscopy: A Systematic Review

JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2020 Sep 1;146(9):851-856. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2020.1973.


Importance: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) reportedly infected otolaryngologists disproportionately in the early parts of the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. Recommendations from national and international health organizations suggest minimizing the use of flexible laryngoscopy as a result.

Objective: To review evidence on the risks of aerosolization and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from patients to health care personnel during endoscopy of the upper aerodigestive tract.

Evidence review: A comprehensive review of literature was performed on April 19, 2020, using the PubMed/MEDLINE (1966-April 2020), Embase (1975-April 2020), and Web of Science (1900-April 2020) databases. All English-language primary research studies were included if they assessed the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 or SARS-CoV-1 during procedures in the upper aerodigestive tract. The primary outcome measure was disease transmission among health care workers. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines were used for accuracy of reporting.

Findings: The queries for SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1 identified 6 articles for systematic review. No studies included in this review provided data for SARS-CoV-2 transmission during flexible laryngoscopy. A total of 204 of 1264 health care workers (16.1%) had procedure-specific infections of SARS-CoV-1 or SARS-CoV-2. Among those, 53 of 221 (24.0%) were exposed during intubation, 1 of 15 (6.7%) during bronchoscopy, and 1 of 1 (100%) during endoscopy-assisted intubation.

Conclusions and relevance: A substantial lack of research precludes formal conclusions about the safety of flexible laryngoscopy and transmission of SARS-CoV-2 from patients to health care workers. The use of appropriate precautionary measures and personal protective equipment appears to reduce the risk of transmission. Given the uncertainty in transmission and the known benefits of safety precautions, upper airway endoscopy may be reasonable to perform if precautionary steps are taken.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Comorbidity
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission*
  • Disease Transmission, Infectious / statistics & numerical data*
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Laryngoscopy / adverse effects*
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Otorhinolaryngologic Diseases / epidemiology
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology
  • Pneumonia, Viral / transmission*
  • Risk Assessment / methods*
  • Risk Factors
  • SARS-CoV-2