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Household Transmission of SARS-CoV-2A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis

Educational Objective
To identify the key insights or developments described in this article
1 Credit CME
Key Points

Question  What is the household secondary attack rate for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)?

Findings  In this meta-analysis of 54 studies with 77 758 participants, the estimated overall household secondary attack rate was 16.6%, higher than observed secondary attack rates for SARS-CoV and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Controlling for differences across studies, secondary attack rates were higher in households from symptomatic index cases than asymptomatic index cases, to adult contacts than to child contacts, to spouses than to other family contacts, and in households with 1 contact than households with 3 or more contacts.

Meaning  These findings suggest that households are and will continue to be important venues for transmission, even in areas where community transmission is reduced.


Importance  Crowded indoor environments, such as households, are high-risk settings for the transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

Objectives  To examine evidence for household transmission of SARS-CoV-2, disaggregated by several covariates, and to compare it with other coronaviruses.

Data Source  PubMed, searched through October 19, 2020. Search terms included SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 with secondary attack rate, household, close contacts, contact transmission, contact attack rate, or family transmission.

Study Selection  All articles with original data for estimating household secondary attack rate were included. Case reports focusing on individual households and studies of close contacts that did not report secondary attack rates for household members were excluded.

Data Extraction and Synthesis  Meta-analyses were done using a restricted maximum-likelihood estimator model to yield a point estimate and 95% CI for secondary attack rate for each subgroup analyzed, with a random effect for each study. To make comparisons across exposure types, study was treated as a random effect, and exposure type was a fixed moderator. The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses (PRISMA) reporting guideline was followed.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Secondary attack rate for SARS-CoV-2, disaggregated by covariates (ie, household or family contact, index case symptom status, adult or child contacts, contact sex, relationship to index case, adult or child index cases, index case sex, number of contacts in household) and for other coronaviruses.

Results  A total of 54 relevant studies with 77 758 participants reporting household secondary transmission were identified. Estimated household secondary attack rate was 16.6% (95% CI, 14.0%-19.3%), higher than secondary attack rates for SARS-CoV (7.5%; 95% CI, 4.8%-10.7%) and MERS-CoV (4.7%; 95% CI, 0.9%-10.7%). Household secondary attack rates were increased from symptomatic index cases (18.0%; 95% CI, 14.2%-22.1%) than from asymptomatic index cases (0.7%; 95% CI, 0%-4.9%), to adult contacts (28.3%; 95% CI, 20.2%-37.1%) than to child contacts (16.8%; 95% CI, 12.3%-21.7%), to spouses (37.8%; 95% CI, 25.8%-50.5%) than to other family contacts (17.8%; 95% CI, 11.7%-24.8%), and in households with 1 contact (41.5%; 95% CI, 31.7%-51.7%) than in households with 3 or more contacts (22.8%; 95% CI, 13.6%-33.5%).

Conclusions and Relevance  The findings of this study suggest that given that individuals with suspected or confirmed infections are being referred to isolate at home, households will continue to be a significant venue for transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

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Article Information

Accepted for Publication: November 6, 2020.

Published: December 14, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.31756

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2020 Madewell ZJ et al. JAMA Network Open.

Corresponding Author: Zachary J. Madewell, Department of Biostatistics, University of Florida, PO Box 117450, Gainesville, FL 32611 (zmadewell@ufl.edu).

Author Contributions: Drs Madewell and Dean had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis.

Concept and design: Madewell, Longini, Dean.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.

Drafting of the manuscript: Madewell, Longini, Dean.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.

Statistical analysis: All authors.

Obtained funding: Dean.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Dean.

Supervision: Dean.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Funding/Support: This work was supported by grant R01-AI139761 from the National Institutes of Health.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

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