Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Air and on Surfaces in Rooms of Infected Nursing Home Residents

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There is an ongoing debate on airborne transmission of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) as a risk factor for infection. In this study, the level of SARS-CoV-2 in air and on surfaces of SARS-CoV-2 infected nursing home residents was assessed to gain insight in potential transmission routes. During outbreaks, air samples were collected using three different active and one passive air sampling technique in rooms of infected patients. Oropharyngeal swabs (OPS) of the residents and dry surface swabs were collected. Additionally, longitudinal passive air samples were collected during a period of 4 months in common areas of the wards. Presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA was determined using RT-qPCR, targeting the RdRp- and E-genes. OPS, samples of two active air samplers and surface swabs with Ct-value ≤35 were tested for the presence of infectious virus by cell culture. In total, 360 air and 319 surface samples from patient rooms and common areas were collected. In rooms of 10 residents with detected SARS-CoV-2 RNA in OPS, SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in 93 of 184 collected environmental samples (50.5%) (lowest Ct 29.5), substantially more than in the rooms of residents with negative OPS on the day of environmental sampling (n = 2) (3.6%). SARS-CoV-2 RNA was most frequently present in the larger particle size fractions [>4 μm 60% (6/10); 1-4 μm 50% (5/10); <1 μm 20% (2/10)] (Fischer exact test P = 0.076). The highest proportion of RNA-positive air samples on room level was found with a filtration-based sampler 80% (8/10) and the cyclone-based sampler 70% (7/10), and impingement-based sampler 50% (5/10). SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in 10 out of 12 (83%) passive air samples in patient rooms. Both high-touch and low-touch surfaces contained SARS-CoV-2 genome in rooms of residents with positive OPS [high 38% (21/55); low 50% (22/44)]. In one active air sample, infectious virus in vitro was detected. In conclusion, SARS-CoV-2 is frequently detected in air and on surfaces in the immediate surroundings of room-isolated COVID-19 patients, providing evidence of environmental contamination. The environmental contamination of SARS-CoV-2 and infectious aerosols confirm the potential for transmission via air up to several meters.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)129-140
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of work exposures and health
Issue number1
Early online date7 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jan 2023


  • SARS-CoV-2
  • air levels
  • nursing home
  • surface


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