SARS-CoV-2 Surface Contamination in Cancer Centers ‘negligible’

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – With strict infection-control protocols, surfaces in outpatient and inpatient hematology/oncology settings are unlikely to be contaminated with SARS-CoV-2, new research indicates.

Studies have shown that contaminated surfaces may contain viable virus for up to 72 hours in laboratory settings. The potential risk of becoming infected with SARS-CoV-2 has dissuaded some cancer patients from seeking needed medical care despite consensus guidelines, the researchers note in the journal Cancer.

Dr. Andrew Evens, with Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, and colleagues investigated SARS-CoV-2 contamination on high-touch surfaces in a tertiary cancer-care center.

The surfaces were tested over a two weeks after patient or staff exposure but before scheduled disinfection services according to established protocols. Samples were tested for SARS-CoV-2 RNA using reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction.

Among the 130 surfaces examined from two outpatient hematology/oncology clinics and the 36 samples tested from the inpatient leukemia/lymphoma/chimeric antigen-receptor T-cell units, all 166 surfaces were negative for SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA, the researchers report.

Among the inpatient COVID-19-positive and patient-under-investigation (PUI) units, there was one positive surface area out of 38 samples (2.6%). The one positive sample was taken from the floor of an elderly patient with multiple medical comorbidities who was treated with remdesivir, dexamethasone, and apixaban for COVID-19 pneumonia.

Collectively, the positive test rate for SARS-CoV-2 RNA across all surfaces in the outpatient/inpatient units was 0.5% (one of 204).

“This prospective, systematic quality assurance investigation of real-world environmental surfaces, performed in inpatient and outpatient hematology/oncology units, revealed overall negligible detection of SARS-CoV-2 RNA when strict mitigation strategies against COVID-19 transmission were instituted,” the study team concludes.

They caution that their study focused on surface contamination, not airborne transmission. The potential for airborne diffusion of SARS-CoV-2 has been studied in China and the virus detection rate remained low when more rigorous disinfection and infection-control procedures were followed.

Other limitations included the inability to analyze the complete surface area of the location, which may have reduced sensitivity. Additionally, the research team did not attempt to culture SARS-CoV-2 from our positive sample, so it’s unknown if it contained live virus.

The results of their study, they say, are “reassuring and should reduce concerns for patients and health care providers about infection transmission from environmental surfaces in outpatient and inpatient oncology spaces when strict mitigation strategies against SARS‐CoV‐2 transmission are instituted.”

SOURCE: Cancer, online February 18, 2021.

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