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COVID-19 seroprevalence amongst healthcare workers: potential biases in estimating infection prevalence

Cordioli M, Mirandola M, Gios L, Gaspari S, Carelli M, Lotti V, Sandri A, Vicentini C, Gibellini D, Carrara E, Tacconelli E; ENACT Working Group

Abstract: SARS-CoV-2 serological tests are used to assess the infection seroprevalence within a population. This study aims at assessing potential biases in estimating infection prevalence amongst healthcare workers (HCWs) when different diagnostic criteria are considered. A multi-site cross-sectional study was carried out in April–September 2020 amongst 1.367 Italian HCWs. SARS-CoV-2 prevalence was assessed using three diagnostic criteria: RT-PCR on nasopharyngeal swab, point-of-care fingerprick serological test (POCT) result and COVID-19 clinical pathognomonic presentation. A logistic regression model was used to estimate the probability of POCT-positive result in relation to the time since infection (RT-PCR positivity). Among 1.367 HCWs, 69.2% were working in COVID-19 units. Statistically significant differences in age, role and gender were observed between COVID-19/non-COVID-19 units. Prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 infection varied according to the criterion considered: 6.7% for POCT, 8.1% for RT-PCR, 10.0% for either POCT or RT-PCR, 9.6% for infection pathognomonic clinical presentation and 17.6% when at least one of the previous criteria was present. The probability of POCT-positive result decreased by 1.1% every 10 days from the infection. This study highlights potential biases in estimating SARS-CoV-2 point-prevalence data according to the criteria used. Although informative on infection susceptibility and herd immunity level, POCT serological tests are not the best predictors of previous COVID-19 infections for public health monitoring programmes.

Keywords: COVID-19; epidemiology; occupation-related infections.

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