medRxiv. 2020 Sep 2:2020.08.30.20177543. doi: 10.1101/2020.08.30.20177543. Preprint.
BACKGROUND: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic raised concern for exposure to healthcare providers through aerosol generating procedures, such as bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL). Current society guidelines recommended limiting use of BAL to reduce operators’ risk for infection, yet data on the infection rate for providers after BAL is sparse. Since March 2020, our institution used a modified protocol to perform over 450 BALs on intubated COVID-19 patients. We therefore sought to describe the subsequent infectious risks to providers associated with BAL.
METHODS: Fifty-two pulmonary and critical care providers (faculty and fellows) at our tertiary-care, urban medical center were surveyed. Survey participants were asked to provide the number of BALs on COVID-19 patients they performed, the number of weeks they cared for intensive care unit (ICU) patients with COVID-19, and the results of any SARS-CoV-2 testing that they received. Participants were asked to assess the difficulty of BAL on intubated COVID-19 patients as compared to routine ICU BAL using a numeric perceived difficulty score ranging from 1 (easier) to 10 (harder).
RESULTS: We received forty-seven responses from fifty-two surveyed (90% response rate), with 2 declining to participate. Many respondents (19/45, 42%) spent >5 weeks on an ICU service with COVID-19 patients. The number of BALs performed by providers ranged from 0 to >60. Sixteen of the 35 providers (46%) who performed BALs underwent at least one nasopharyngeal (NP) swab to test for SARS-CoV-2, but none were positive. Twenty-seven of the 35 providers (77%) who performed BALs underwent SARS-CoV-2 serology testing, and only one (3.7%) was positive. Respondents indicated occasionally not being able to follow aerosol-minimizing steps but overall felt BALs in COVID-19 patients was only slightly more difficult than routine ICU BAL.
DISCUSSION: At a high-volume center having performed >450 BALs on intubated COVID-19 patients with aerosol-limiting precautions, our survey of bronchoscopists found no positive NP SARS-CoV-2 tests and only one positive antibody test result. While the optimal role for COVID-19 BAL remains to be determined, these data suggest that BAL can be safely performed in intubated COVID-19 patients if experienced providers take precautions to limit aerosol generation and wear personal protective equipment.