A nationwide group of infection control experts recommends U.S. health care facilities stop testing patients for COVID-19 before hospital admission or scheduled surgeries if they have no virus symptoms.
The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) statement says facilities should rely instead on enhanced layers of infection prevention.
“The small benefits that could come from asymptomatic testing at this stage in the pandemic are overridden by potential harms from delays in procedures, delays in patient transfers and strains on laboratory capacity and personnel,” said Dr. Thomas Talbot. He is chief hospital epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., and a member of SHEA's Board of Directors.
“Since some tests can detect residual virus for a long period, patients who test positive may not be contagious,” Talbot noted.
The SHEA board said evidence is lacking that asymptomatic testing reduces health care-associated COVID-19 infections. These testing requirements may hit hard on disadvantaged groups with limited access to care and testing resources, the board members noted in a society news release.
The authors of the statement cited a variety of studies, including one from a specialty hospital that pegged the cost of identifying one asymptomatic COVID-19 patient at more than $12,500. Other research found that asymptomatic COVID-19 testing added nearly 2 hours to an emergency department stay, according to SHEA.
The group said practices should be driven by risk assessments that include targeted scenarios, patient populations or locations that may require added interventions.
To prevent infections, the recommendation suggests universal use of N95 respirators during certain procedures; screening providers for signs of COVID-19; physical layouts that reduce shared patient spaces; and enhanced cleaning and ventilation.
The report was published Dec. 21 in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 testing.
SOURCE: Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America, news release, Dec. 21, 2022