NHS cleaners were twice as likely to be infected with Covid than intensive care staff, research reveals.
Birmingham Uni experts tested more than 500 workers at a major hospital during the peak of the pandemic.
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More than one in three cleaners – 34.5 per cent – had antibodies which show they had been previously infected with the bug.
But fewer than one in six – just 15 per cent – of intensive care staff were affected, while only one in seven surgeons had the contagion.
Cleaners were only given basic masks, while those dealing with high-risk patients were given better kit, including gloves, gown and a visor.
It suggests the type of personal protective equipment used by hospital workers is key to controlling spread.
Writing in the journal Thorax, lead researcher Professor Alex Richter said: “We presumed intensive care workers would be at highest risk. But workers in ITU are relatively well protected compared with other areas.
“The reasons underlying this are likely to be multifactorial: in accordance with national guidelines, intensive care units were designated high-risk environments and the use of enhanced personal protective equipment including filtered face piece respirators mandated.
“In contrast, fluid-resistant surgical masks [less protective] were recommended in other clinical areas.”
Scientists also found an ethnic divide, with minority workers nearly twice as likely to have already had the infection as white colleagues.
The study was carried out at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust in late April.
Researchers said their findings support regular screening of health workers to halt silent spreaders.
Prof Richter added: “Our data would support the assessment of widespread healthcare worker testing, including track and trace, on viral transmission during future waves of a pandemic.
“All these factors are important for considering what’s going to happen this winter.
“Cases of coronavirus are on the rise. Are we going to have another surge? If there is one, how do we protect healthcare workers this winter?”
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