SARS-CoV-2 and the role of fomite transmission: a systematic review
Onakpoya IJ., Heneghan CJ., Spencer EA., Brassey J., Plüddemann A., Evans DH., Conly JM., Jefferson T.
Background: SARS-CoV-2 has been detected in fomites which suggests the virus could be transmitted via inanimate objects. However, there is uncertainty about the mechanistic pathway for such transmissions. Our objective was to identify, appraise and summarise the evidence from primary studies and systematic reviews assessing the role of fomites in transmission. Methods: This review is part of an Open Evidence Review on Transmission Dynamics of SARS-CoV-2. We conduct ongoing searches using WHO Covid-19 Database, LitCovid, medRxiv, and Google Scholar; assess study quality based on five criteria and report important findings on an ongoing basis. Results: We found 64 studies: 63 primary studies and one systematic review (n=35). The settings for primary studies were predominantly in hospitals (69.8%) including general wards, ICU and SARS-CoV-2 isolation wards. There were variations in the study designs including timing of sample collection, hygiene procedures, ventilation settings and cycle threshold. The overall quality of reporting was low to moderate. The frequency of positive SARS-CoV-2 tests across 51 studies (using RT-PCR) ranged from 0.5% to 75%. Cycle threshold values ranged from 20.8 to 44.1. Viral concentrations were reported in 17 studies; however, discrepancies in the methods for estimation prevented comparison. Eleven studies (17.5%) attempted viral culture, but none found a cytopathic effect. Results of the systematic review showed that healthcare settings were most frequently tested (25/35, 71.4%), but laboratories reported the highest frequency of contaminated surfaces (20.5%, 17/83). Conclusions: The majority of studies report identification of SARS-CoV-2 RNA on inanimate surfaces; however, there is a lack of evidence demonstrating the recovery of viable virus. Lack of positive viral cultures and variation in cycle thresholds create uncertainty about fomites as a mode of transmission. Heterogeneity in study designs and methodology prevents comparisons of findings across studies. Standardized guidelines for conducting and reporting research on fomite transmission is warranted.