SARS-CoV-2 can reportedly exist on inanimate surfaces for a long duration, but there is limited data available from Italian COVID-19 hospital wards, especially for non-intensive care units hosting patients that do not require mechanical ventilation. Identification of the extent of environmental contamination can help in understanding possible virus transmission routes, limit hospital infections and protect healthcare workers. Thus, we investigated virus contamination on surfaces of the acute COVID-19 ward of an Italian hospital.
Ward surfaces, including four points inside and six points outside the patients' rooms were sampled by swabs, seven hours after routine sanitation. To minimize the risk of underestimation of virus detection, two different sensitive molecular methods were used comparatively, and specific internal controls were added to enhance the efficiency of all the analysis steps.
SARS-CoV-2 contamination was detected in only three out of all the collected samples, i.e., on two floors and one-bathroom sink, likely reflecting aerosol and saliva contamination, respectively. The overall level of contamination was low, and the floors exhibited a very low level of SARS-CoV-2 presence, evidenced by only one of the two methods used.
The existence of SARS-CoV-2 on hospital surfaces may be limited, although it was reported to persist for a longer duration on surfaces under controlled laboratory conditions. Thus, effective transmission of SARS-CoV-2 by surfaces/fomites within the hospital ward may be a rare event. However, the results highlight the importance of assessing method sensitivity and including controls when investigating low-level virus contamination so as to avoid the risk of underestimation of virus presence.