Behavioral factors and SARS-CoV-2 transmission heterogeneity within a household cohort in Costa Rica

Commun Med (Lond). 2023 Jul 22;3(1):102. doi: 10.1038/s43856-023-00325-6.


Introduction: Variability in household secondary attack rates and transmission risks factors of SARS-CoV-2 remain poorly understood.

Methods: We conducted a household transmission study of SARS-CoV-2 in Costa Rica, with SARS-CoV-2 index cases selected from a larger prospective cohort study and their household contacts were enrolled. A total of 719 household contacts of 304 household index cases were enrolled from November 21, 2020, through July 31, 2021. Blood specimens were collected from contacts within 30-60 days of index case diagnosis; and serum was tested for presence of spike and nucleocapsid SARS-CoV-2 IgG antibodies. Evidence of SARS-CoV-2 prior infections among household contacts was defined based on the presence of both spike and nucleocapsid antibodies. We fitted a chain binomial model to the serologic data, to account for exogenous community infection risk and potential multi-generational transmissions within the household.

Results: Overall seroprevalence was 53% (95% confidence interval (CI) 48-58%) among household contacts. The estimated household secondary attack rate is 34% (95% CI 5-75%). Mask wearing by the index case is associated with the household transmission risk reduction by 67% (adjusted odds ratio = 0.33 with 95% CI: 0.09-0.75) and not sharing bedroom with the index case is associated with the risk reduction of household transmission by 78% (adjusted odds ratio = 0.22 with 95% CI 0.10-0.41). The estimated distribution of household secondary attack rates is highly heterogeneous across index cases, with 30% of index cases being the source for 80% of secondary cases.

Conclusions: Modeling analysis suggests that behavioral factors are important drivers of the observed SARS-CoV-2 transmission heterogeneity within the household.

Plain language summary

When living in the same house with known SARS-CoV-2 cases, household members may change their behavior and adopt preventive measures to reduce the spread of SARS-CoV-2. To understand how behavioral factors affect SARS-CoV-2 spreading in household settings, we focused on household members of individuals with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infections and followed the way SARS-CoV-2 spread within the household, by looking at who had antibodies against the virus, which means they were infected. We also asked participants detailed questions about their behavior and applied mathematical modeling to evaluate its impact on SARS-CoV-2 transmission. We found that mask-wearing by the SARS-CoV-2 cases, and avoiding sharing a bedroom with the infected individuals, reduces SARS-CoV-2 transmission. However, caring for SARS-CoV-2 cases, and prolonged interaction with infected individuals facilitate SARS-CoV-2 spreading. Our study helps inform what behaviors can help reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission within a household.