Prevalence and Clinical Presentation of Health Care Workers With Symptoms of Coronavirus Disease 2019 in 2 Dutch Hospitals During an Early Phase of the Pandemic.JAMA Netw Open. 2020 05 01; 3(5):e209673.JN
On February 27, 2020, the first patient with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) was reported in the Netherlands. During the following weeks, at 2 Dutch teaching hospitals, 9 health care workers (HCWs) received a diagnosis of COVID-19, 8 of whom had no history of travel to China or northern Italy, raising the question of whether undetected community circulation was occurring.
To determine the prevalence and clinical presentation of COVID-19 among HCWs with self-reported fever or respiratory symptoms.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This cross-sectional study was performed in 2 teaching hospitals in the southern part of the Netherlands in March 2020, during the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care workers employed in the participating hospitals who experienced fever or respiratory symptoms were asked to voluntarily participate in a screening for infection with the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. Data analysis was performed in March 2020.
Main Outcomes and Measures
The prevalence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 infection was determined by semiquantitative real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction on oropharyngeal samples. Structured interviews were conducted to document symptoms for all HCWs with confirmed COVID-19.
Of 9705 HCWs employed (1722 male [18%]), 1353 (14%) reported fever or respiratory symptoms and were tested. Of those, 86 HCWs (6%) were infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (median age, 49 years [range, 22-66 years]; 15 [17%] male), representing 1% of all HCWs employed. Most HCWs experienced mild disease, and only 46 (53%) reported fever. Eighty HCWs (93%) met a case definition of fever and/or coughing and/or shortness of breath. Only 3 (3%) of the HCWs identified through the screening had a history of travel to China or northern Italy, and 3 (3%) reported having been exposed to an inpatient with a known diagnosis of COVID-19 before the onset of symptoms.
Conclusions and Relevance
Within 2 weeks after the first Dutch case was detected, a substantial proportion of HCWs with self-reported fever or respiratory symptoms were infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, likely as a result of acquisition of the virus in the community during the early phase of local spread. The high prevalence of mild clinical presentations, frequently not including fever, suggests that the currently recommended case definition for suspected COVID-19 should be used less stringently.