Frontline healthcare workers with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) have a three-fold increased risk of testing positive for coronavirus, compared to the general population, a study has found.
The research also indicates those with inadequate PPE had a further increased in risk.
According to the data, healthcare workers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were more likely to test positive.
Researchers say their findings highlight the importance of adequate availability and use of PPE, but also the need for additional strategies to protect healthcare workers.
These include ensuring correct application and removal of PPE and avoiding reuse, which was associated with increased risk.
Using the Covid Symptom Tracker App, researchers from King’s College London and Harvard looked at data from 2,035,395 individuals and 99,795 frontline health-care workers in the UK and US.
They found that the prevalence of Sars-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19, was 2,747 cases per 100,000 frontline health-care workers compared with 242 cases per 100,000 people in the general community.
Around 20% of frontline healthcare workers reported at least one symptom associated with the virus, compared with 14·4% of the general population.
Fatigue, loss of smell or taste, and hoarse voice were especially frequent, the study published in Lancet Public Health found.
Researchers say BAME healthcare workers were at an especially high risk of infection, with at least a five-fold increased risk, compared with the non-Hispanic white general community.
Professor Sebastien Ourselin, senior author from King’s College London said: “The findings of our study have tremendous impact for healthcare workers and hospitals.
“The data is clear in revealing that there is still an elevated risk of Sars-CoV-2 infection despite availability of PPE.
“In particular we note that that the BAME community experience elevated risk of infection and in some cases lack access to adequate PPE, or frequently reuse equipment.”
Dr Claire Steves, lead clinical researcher from King’s College London said: “I’m very pleased we have now introduced masks and social distancing where possible for all interactions in hospitals, to protect ourselves and the population we serve.
“We need to ensure this is reinforced and sustained throughout the health service, including in health care settings outside hospitals, for example in care homes.
“Additional protective strategies are equally as important, such as implementing social distancing among healthcare staff.
“Stricter protocols for socialising among healthcare staff also need to be considered.”