Occupation, work-related contact and SARS-CoV-2 anti-nucleocapsid serological status: findings from the Virus Watch prospective cohort study

Occup Environ Med. 2022 Apr 21;79(11):729-735. doi: 10.1136/oemed-2021-107920. Online ahead of print.


Objectives: Risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection varies across occupations; however, investigation into factors underlying differential risk is limited. We aimed to estimate the total effect of occupation on SARS-CoV-2 serological status, whether this is mediated by workplace close contact, and how exposure to poorly ventilated workplaces varied across occupations.

Methods: We used data from a subcohort (n=3775) of adults in the UK-based Virus Watch cohort study who were tested for SARS-CoV-2 anti-nucleocapsid antibodies (indicating natural infection). We used logistic decomposition to investigate the relationship between occupation, contact and seropositivity, and logistic regression to investigate exposure to poorly ventilated workplaces.

Results: Seropositivity was 17.1% among workers with daily close contact vs 10.0% for those with no work-related close contact. Compared with other professional occupations, healthcare, indoor trade/process/plant, leisure/personal service, and transport/mobile machine workers had elevated adjusted total odds of seropositivity (1.80 (1.03 to 3.14) - 2.46 (1.82 to 3.33)). Work-related contact accounted for a variable part of increased odds across occupations (1.04 (1.01 to 1.08) - 1.23 (1.09 to 1.40)). Occupations with raised odds of infection after accounting for work-related contact also had greater exposure to poorly ventilated workplaces.

Conclusions: Work-related close contact appears to contribute to occupational variation in seropositivity. Reducing contact in workplaces is an important COVID-19 control measure.

Keywords: COVID-19; Epidemiology; Occupational Health.