• Anaesthesia ยท Aug 2020

    Review

    Airborne transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 to healthcare workers: a narrative review.

    In this review, Wilson, Norton, Young & Collins challenge the overly-simplistic view that SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk can be easily divided between droplet-contact and aerosol precautions.

    Why is this important?

    Many national societies have policies on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guided by classification of COVID exposure into aerosol-generation procedures (AGP) or other exposures. Although founded in some evidence, there are questions as to whether PPE shortage and availability also drives these recommendations. Widespread concern over healthcare worker (HCW) infection is understandable, given that during SARS 20% of infections were among HCWs.

    Understanding the science behind respiratory particle generation and transmission helps to inform our understanding of how best to use limited PPE.

    On the science of respiratory shedding

    Aerosol generation is important because virus inhalation and deposition in small distal airways may be associated with greater infection risk and disease severity. Wilson et al. describe three mechanisms of aerosol generation:

    1. Laryngeal activity - talking, coughing, sneezing.
    2. High velocity gas flow - eg. high-flow oxygen
    3. Cyclical opening & closing of terminal airways.  

    Notably, the clinically features of COVID itself make all three high-risk mechanisms more likely. Additionally various studies show that even talking and tidal volume breathing produce large numbers and size ranges of respiratory droplets.

    Exposure relative risk is primarily about proximity and exposure duration

    Further, considering retrospective data form SARS HCW infections involving various procedures (eg. intubation, HCW infection RR 4.2; oxygen mask manipulation RR 9; urinary catheterisation RR 5), Wilson et al. propose that healthcare work risk can be considered:

    infection risk โˆ ๐‘ ร— ๐‘ฃ ร— ๐‘ก / ๐‘’

    Where: ๐‘ = breathing zone particle viable virion aerosol concentration, ๐‘ฃ = minute volume of healthcare worker, ๐‘ก = time exposed , ๐‘’ = mask efficiency

    And on intubation:

    "...[other] healthcare workers should stand over 2 m away and out of the direct exhalation plume. During a rapid sequence intubation muscle relaxation should be protective as coughing will be prevented and high airway gas flow and expiratory output will terminate. When expiratory flow is ended ... aerosol particles should start settling in the airways. The forces generated in gentle laryngoscopy are unlikely to cause aerosol formation."

    "...[there is] limited evidence to suggest AGPs cause an increase in airborne healthcare worker transmission as this has not been studied. The few studies to sample pathogenic airborne particles in relation to procedures show no increase with the majority of AGPs."

    Bear in mind...

    Much of the evidence guiding our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transmission is founded on understanding and research focusing on the 2003 SARS pandemic (SARS-CoV-1) and influenza research. Although sharing similarities, "...each has its own infective inoculum and aerosol characteristics."

    What's the bottom-line?

    Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 should be conceptualised as a spectrum of risk where time exposed may be the dominant factor and droplet-airborne spread is a complex continuum of varying probability of infection. Many 'non-AGP' events could in fact be higher risk than those traditionally considered AGP, such as intubation.

    summary
    • N M Wilson, A Norton, F P Young, and D W Collins.
    • Department of Intensive Care Medicine, Prince of Wales Hospital, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
    • Anaesthesia. 2020 Aug 1; 75 (8): 1086-1095.

    AbstractHealthcare workers are at risk of infection during the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 pandemic. International guidance suggests direct droplet transmission is likely and airborne transmission occurs only with aerosol-generating procedures. Recommendations determining infection control measures to ensure healthcare worker safety follow these presumptions. Three mechanisms have been described for the production of smaller sized respiratory particles ('aerosols') that, if inhaled, can deposit in the distal airways. These include: laryngeal activity such as talking and coughing; high velocity gas flow; and cyclical opening and closure of terminal airways. Sneezing and coughing are effective aerosol generators, but all forms of expiration produce particles across a range of sizes. The 5-ฮผm diameter threshold used to differentiate droplet from airborne is an over-simplification of multiple complex, poorly understood biological and physical variables. The evidence defining aerosol-generating procedures comes largely from low-quality case and cohort studies where the exact mode of transmission is unknown as aerosol production was never quantified. We propose that transmission is associated with time in proximity to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-1 patients with respiratory symptoms, rather than the procedures per se. There is no proven relation between any aerosol-generating procedure with airborne viral content with the exception of bronchoscopy and suctioning. The mechanism for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 transmission is unknown but the evidence suggestive of airborne spread is growing. We speculate that infected patients who cough, have high work of breathing, increased closing capacity and altered respiratory tract lining fluid will be significant producers of pathogenic aerosols. We suggest several aerosol-generating procedures may in fact result in less pathogen aerosolisation than a dyspnoeic and coughing patient. Healthcare workers should appraise the current evidence regarding transmission and apply this to the local infection prevalence. Measures to mitigate airborne transmission should be employed at times of risk. However, the mechanisms and risk factors for transmission are largely unconfirmed. Whilst awaiting robust evidence, a precautionary approach should be considered to assure healthcare worker safety.ยฉ 2020 Association of Anaesthetists.

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    This article appears in the collection: Anaesthesiology, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and COVID.

    Notes

    summary
    1

    In this review, Wilson, Norton, Young & Collins challenge the overly-simplistic view that SARS-CoV-2 transmission risk can be easily divided between droplet-contact and aerosol precautions.

    Why is this important?

    Many national societies have policies on Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) guided by classification of COVID exposure into aerosol-generation procedures (AGP) or other exposures. Although founded in some evidence, there are questions as to whether PPE shortage and availability also drives these recommendations. Widespread concern over healthcare worker (HCW) infection is understandable, given that during SARS 20% of infections were among HCWs.

    Understanding the science behind respiratory particle generation and transmission helps to inform our understanding of how best to use limited PPE.

    On the science of respiratory shedding

    Aerosol generation is important because virus inhalation and deposition in small distal airways may be associated with greater infection risk and disease severity. Wilson et al. describe three mechanisms of aerosol generation:

    1. Laryngeal activity - talking, coughing, sneezing.
    2. High velocity gas flow - eg. high-flow oxygen
    3. Cyclical opening & closing of terminal airways.  

    Notably, the clinically features of COVID itself make all three high-risk mechanisms more likely. Additionally various studies show that even talking and tidal volume breathing produce large numbers and size ranges of respiratory droplets.

    Exposure relative risk is primarily about proximity and exposure duration

    Further, considering retrospective data form SARS HCW infections involving various procedures (eg. intubation, HCW infection RR 4.2; oxygen mask manipulation RR 9; urinary catheterisation RR 5), Wilson et al. propose that healthcare work risk can be considered:

    infection risk โˆ ๐‘ ร— ๐‘ฃ ร— ๐‘ก / ๐‘’

    Where: ๐‘ = breathing zone particle viable virion aerosol concentration, ๐‘ฃ = minute volume of healthcare worker, ๐‘ก = time exposed , ๐‘’ = mask efficiency

    And on intubation:

    "...[other] healthcare workers should stand over 2 m away and out of the direct exhalation plume. During a rapid sequence intubation muscle relaxation should be protective as coughing will be prevented and high airway gas flow and expiratory output will terminate. When expiratory flow is ended ... aerosol particles should start settling in the airways. The forces generated in gentle laryngoscopy are unlikely to cause aerosol formation."

    "...[there is] limited evidence to suggest AGPs cause an increase in airborne healthcare worker transmission as this has not been studied. The few studies to sample pathogenic airborne particles in relation to procedures show no increase with the majority of AGPs."

    Bear in mind...

    Much of the evidence guiding our understanding of SARS-CoV-2 transmission is founded on understanding and research focusing on the 2003 SARS pandemic (SARS-CoV-1) and influenza research. Although sharing similarities, "...each has its own infective inoculum and aerosol characteristics."

    What's the bottom-line?

    Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 should be conceptualised as a spectrum of risk where time exposed may be the dominant factor and droplet-airborne spread is a complex continuum of varying probability of infection. Many 'non-AGP' events could in fact be higher risk than those traditionally considered AGP, such as intubation.

    Daniel Jolley  Daniel Jolley
    pearl
    1

    Transmission of SARS-CoV-2 should be conceptualised as a spectrum of risk where time exposed may be the dominant factor.

    Daniel Jolley  Daniel Jolley
     
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