Concerns mount about coronavirus spreading in hospitals, study suggests

A new study shines a spotlight on the possible risk of hospital-related transmissions of the Wuhan coronavirus.

The study, published in the medical journal JAMA on Friday, involved analyzing data on 138 patients hospitalized with novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia in Wuhan, China. The data showed that hospital-related transmissions of the virus were suspected in about 41% of the patients.

Specifically, 40 health care workers in the study and 17 patients who were already hospitalized for other reasons were presumed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus in the hospital, the data showed, also revealing that 26% of all the patients were admitted to an intensive care unit and 4.3% died.

The researchers noted that the new study, to their knowledge, might be the largest case series to date of hospitalized patients with novel coronavirus-infected pneumonia — but the study had some limitations.

Hospital-related transmissions of infections “could not be definitively proven but was suspected and presumed based on timing and patterns of exposure to infected patients and subsequent development of infection,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Among the 138 cases, most patients were still hospitalized at the time of manuscript submission. “Therefore, it is difficult to assess risk factors for poor outcome, and continued observations of the natural history of the disease are needed,” the authors wrote.

A separate paper, also published in JAMA on Friday, included data on 13 patients with novel coronavirus infections outside of Wuhan, China. The data came from three hospitals in Beijing, China, and showed that most of the infected patients visited or came in close contact with individuals from Wuhan and most were healthy adults — only one was older than 50 and one younger than 5.

When it comes to the risk of this novel coronavirus spreading in hospitals, so far “we have only one instance of an outbreak in a hospital that we are aware of in Wuhan involving 15 healthcare workers,” Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the World Health Organization in Geneva, said during a press conference Friday.

Van Kerkhove, who was not involved in either of the JAMA studies, was referencing numbers that seem to differ from what was found in the studies.

Yet overall, “what we can say, with certainty, is that standard infection prevention control measures at all times in all hospitals is really a must,” she said. “We have not seen health care-associated outbreaks in other cities. We have not seen health care associated outbreaks in other countries, but that is certainly something that we are on the outlook for.”