Much remains unknown about the transmission dynamics of COVID-19. How the severity of the index case and timing of exposure is associated with disease in close contacts of index patients with COVID-19 and clinical presentation in those developing disease is not well elucidated.
Objectives To investigate the association between the timing of exposure and development of disease among close contacts of index patients with COVID-19 and to evaluate whether the severity of the index case is associated with clinical presentation in close contacts who develop COVID-19.
Design, Setting, and Participants This study used a large, population-based cohort of 730 individuals (index patients) who received a diagnosis of COVID-19 in Zhejiang Province, China, from January 8 to July 30, 2020, along with a contact tracing surveillance program. Field workers visited 8852 close contacts of the index patients and evaluated them for COVID-19 through August 2020. A timeline was constructed to characterize different exposure periods between index patients and their contacts.
Main Outcomes and Measures The primary outcome was the attack rate of COVID-19, defined as the total number of new COVID-19 cases diagnosed among contacts of index patients divided by the total number of exposed contacts. A secondary outcome was asymptomatic clinical presentation among infected contacts. Relative risks were calculated to investigate risk factors for COVID-19 among contacts and asymptomatic clinical presentation among infected contacts.
Results Among 8852 close contacts (4679 male contacts [52.9%]; median age, 41 years [interquartile range, 28-54 years]) of 730 index patients (374 male patients [51.2%]; median age, 46 years [interquartile range, 36-56 years]), contacts were at highest risk of COVID-19 if they were exposed between 2 days before and 3 days after the index patient’s symptom onset, peaking at day 0 (adjusted relative risk [ARR], 1.3; 95% CI, 1.2-1.5). Compared with being exposed to an asymptomatic index patient, the risk of COVID-19 among contacts was higher when they were exposed to index patients with mild (ARR, 4.0; 95% CI, 1.8-9.1) and moderate (ARR, 4.3; 95% CI, 1.9-9.7) cases of COVID-19. As index case severity increased, infected contacts were less likely to be asymptomatic (exposed to patient with mild COVID-19: ARR, 0.3; 95% CI, 0.1-0.9; exposed to patient with moderate COVID-19: ARR, 0.3; 95% CI, 0.1-0.8).
Conclusions and Relevance This cohort study found that individuals with COVID-19 were most infectious a few days before and after symptom onset. Infected contacts of asymptomatic index patients were less likely to present with COVID-19 symptoms, suggesting that quantity of exposure may be associated with clinical presentation in close contacts.