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Despite their considerable prevalence, dynamics of hospital-associated COVID-19 are still not well understood. We assessed the nature and extent of air- and surface-borne SARS-CoV-2 contamination in hospitals to identify hazards of viral dispersal and enable more precise targeting of infection prevention and control. PubMed, ScienceDirect, Web of Science, Medrxiv, and Biorxiv were searched for relevant articles until June 1, 2021. In total, 51 observational cross-sectional studies comprising 6258 samples were included. SARS-CoV-2 RNA was detected in one in six air and surface samples throughout the hospital and up to 7.62 m away from the nearest patients. The highest detection rates and viral concentrations were reported from patient areas. The most frequently and heavily contaminated types of surfaces comprised air outlets and hospital floors. Viable virus was recovered from the air and fomites. Among size-fractionated air samples, only fine aerosols contained viable virus. Aerosol-generating procedures significantly increased (ORair  = 2.56 (1.46-4.51); ORsurface  = 1.95 (1.27-2.99)), whereas patient masking significantly decreased air- and surface-borne SARS-CoV-2 contamination (ORair  = 0.41 (0.25-0.70); ORsurface  = 0.45 (0.34-0.61)). The nature and extent of hospital contamination indicate that SARS-CoV-2 is likely dispersed conjointly through several transmission routes, including short- and long-range aerosol, droplet, and fomite transmission.

Original publication




Journal article


Indoor Air

Publication Date



COVID-19, aerosol, fomites, hospital infections, masks, transmission