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Transfer of pathogens to and from patients, healthcare providers, and medical devices during care activity—a systematic review and meta-analysis

  • Aline Wolfensberger (a1), Lauren Clack (a1), Stefan P. Kuster (a1), Simone Passerini (a1), Lona Mody (a2) (a3), Vineet Chopra (a4) (a5), Jason Mann (a4) and Hugo Sax (a1)...
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.

The transfer of pathogens may spread antimicrobial resistance and lead to healthcare-acquired infections. We performed a systematic literature review to generate estimates of pathogen transfer in relation to healthcare provider (HCP) activities.


For this systematic review and meta-analysis, Medline/Ovid, EMBASE, and the Cochrane Library were searched for studies published before July 7, 2017. We reviewed the literature, examining transfer of pathogens associated with HCP activities. We included studies that (1) quantified transfer of pathogens from a defined origin to a defined destination surface; (2) reported a microbiological sampling technique; and (3) described the associated activity leading to transfer. For studies reporting transfer frequencies, we extracted data and calculated the estimated proportion using Freeman-Tukey double arcsine transformation and the DerSimonian-Laird random-effects model.


Of 13,121 identified articles, 32 were included. Most articles (n=27, 84%) examined transfer from patients and their environment to HCP hands, gloves, and gowns, with an estimated proportion for transfer frequency of 33% (95% confidence interval [CI], 12%–57%), 30% (95% CI, 23%–38%) and 10% (95% CI, 6%–14%), respectively. Other articles addressed transfer involving the hospital environment and medical devices. Risk factor analyses in 12 studies suggested higher transfer frequencies after contact with moist body sites (n=7), longer duration of care (n=5), and care of patients with an invasive device (n=3).


Recognizing the heterogeneity in study designs, the available evidence suggests that pathogen transfer to HCPs occurs frequently. More systematic research is urgently warranted to support targeted and economic prevention policies and interventions.

Corresponding author
Author for correspondence: Aline Wolfensberger MD, Division of Infectious Diseases and Hospital Epidemiology, University Hospital Zurich, University of Zurich, Rämistrasse 100, CH-8091 Zurich, Switzerland. E-mail:
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