STUDY QUESTION: What is the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) viral presence and seroconversion in staff members in European fertility units prior to recommencement of clinical activity? SUMMARY ANSWER: A large proportion of fertility clinic staff remain susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 with no evidence of seroconversion, indicating that continued comprehensive risk mitigation strategies are essential. WHAT IS KNOWN ALREADY: In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, routine fertility treatment was temporarily stopped in several European countries. The SARS-CoV-2 prevalence and seroconversion in fertility clinic staff, who are at potentially lower risk than routine healthcare workers, are unknown. STUDY DESIGN, SIZE, DURATION: This cross-sectional study included 554 staff in 16 European IVF clinics, 13 ultrasound clinics, one diagnostic laboratory and one head office in four European countries (Austria, Denmark, Germany and the UK) between 15 April and 30 June 2020. PARTICIPANTS/MATERIALS, SETTING, METHODS: There were 554 staff members returning for resumption of clinical activity. Paired nucleic acid amplification tests of oropharyngeal swabs for SARS-CoV-2 and serological testing for SARS-CoV-2 IgG were performed. MAIN RESULTS AND THE ROLE OF CHANCE: Of the 554 staff members tested, 0.19% (95% CI 0.03, 1.10%) had evidence of SARS-CoV-2 as detected by RT-PCR. In contrast, 23 staff members, i.e. 4.15% (95% CI 2.78, 6.15%), had antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, with a wide range of antibody titres. There was no evidence of differences in seroconversion between countries with estimates ranging from 2.78% (95% CI 0.77, 9.58) in Austria to 6.75% (95% CI 4.46, 10.1) for the UK. There was no strong evidence of clustering within the clinics, with 21 of the 30 facilities having no staff members affected (prevalence estimates ranging from 0% to 35%), and one clinic having seven staff members affected (35% (95% CI 18.1%, 56.7%)). The single staff member who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 virus was in the pre-symptomatic phase and was isolated, with no contacts having evidence of infection on repeat testing. LIMITATIONS, REASONS FOR CAUTION: This was a cross-sectional study prior to resumption of clinical activity, with repeat testing not undertaken. WIDER IMPLICATIONS OF THE FINDINGS: The low prevalence of seroconversion of fertility clinic staff highlights the need for continued comprehensive risk mitigation strategies and engagement with national endeavours to identify and isolate new cases and their contacts as we embark on the resumption of fertility services. STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTEREST(S): The Fertility Partnership funded the study. S.M.N. reports personal fees from Access Fertility, personal fees from Merck, personal fees from Ferring, grants and personal fees from Roche Diagnostics, personal fees from The Fertility Partnership and personal fees from Modern Fertility, outside the submitted work. T.C. reports personal fees from Merck and personal fees from Ferring, outside the submitted work. G.T. reports personal fees from Merck, personal fees from Ferring and personal fees from Roche Diagnostics, outside the submitted work. S.E. and P.S.G. report no conflicts of interest.


The Author(s) 2020. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/), which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. For commercial re-use, please contact journals.permissions@oup.com

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Nelson, S., Ehnert, S., Gromski, P., Child, T. & Trew, G. 2020, 'SARS-Cov-2 viral and serological screening of staff in 31 European fertility units', Human Reproduction Open, article no: hoaa056. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/hropen/hoaa056

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Last updated: 17 June 2022
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