Genomics study identifies routes of transmission of coronavirus in care homes

Care homes are at high risk of experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2. Older people and those affected by heart disease, respiratory disease and type 2 diabetes are at greatest risk of severe disease and even death, making the care home population especially vulnerable.

Care homes are known to be high-risk settings for infectious diseases, owing to a combination of the underlying vulnerability of residents who are often frail and elderly, the shared living environment with multiple communal spaces, and the high number of contacts between residents, staff and visitors in an enclosed space.

In research published in eLife, a team led by scientists at the University of Cambridge and Wellcome Sanger Institute used a combination of genome sequencing and detailed epidemiological information to examine the impact of COVID-19 on care homes and to look at how the virus spreads in these settings.

In this study, researchers analysed samples collected from 6,600 patients between 26 February and 10 May 2020 and tested at the Public Health England (PHE) Laboratory in Cambridge. Out of all the cases, 1,167 (18%) were care home residents from 337 care homes, 193 of which were residential homes and 144 nursing homes, the majority in the East of England. The median age of care home residents was 86 years.

Compared with non-care home residents admitted to hospital with COVID-19, hospitalised care home residents were less likely to be admitted to intensive care units (less than 7% versus 21%) and more likely to die (47% versus 20%).

“Using this technique of ‘genomic surveillance’ can help institutions such as care homes and hospitals better understand the transmission networks that allow the spread of COVID-19,” said Dr William Hamilton from the University of Cambridge and CUH. “This can then inform infection control measures, helping ensure that these places are as safe as possible for residents, patients, staff and visitors.”

This is an abridged version of the press release which was first published on our website on March 3, 2021.

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