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Effectiveness of testing, contact tracing and isolation interventions among the general population on reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2: a systematic review

Littlecott, Hannah; Herd, Clare; O'Rourke, John; Chaparro, Lina Toncon; Keeling, Matt; James Rubin, G; Fearon, Elizabeth; (2023) Effectiveness of testing, contact tracing and isolation interventions among the general population on reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2: a systematic review. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences , 381 (2257) , Article 20230131. 10.1098/rsta.2023.0131. Green open access

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Abstract

We conducted a systematic literature review of general population testing, contact tracing, case isolation and contact quarantine interventions to assess their effectiveness in reducing SARS-CoV-2 transmission, as implemented in real-world settings. We designed a broad search strategy and aimed to identify peer-reviewed studies of any design provided there was a quantitative measure of effectiveness on a transmission outcome. Studies that assessed the effect of testing or diagnosis on disease outcomes via treatment, but did not assess a transmission outcome, were not included. We focused on interventions implemented among the general population rather than in specific settings; these were from anywhere in the world and published any time after 1 January 2020 until the end of 2022. From 26 720 titles and abstracts, 1181 were reviewed as full text, and 25 met our inclusion criteria. These 25 studies included one randomized control trial (RCT) and the remaining 24 analysed empirical data and made some attempt to control for confounding. Studies included were categorized by the type of intervention: contact tracing (seven studies); specific testing strategies (12 studies); strategies for isolating cases/contacts (four studies); and 'test, trace, isolate' (TTI) as a part of a package of interventions (two studies). None of the 25 studies were rated at low risk of bias and many were rated as serious risk of bias, particularly due to the likely presence of uncontrolled confounding factors, which was a major challenge in assessing the independent effects of TTI in observational studies. These confounding factors are to be expected from observational studies during an on-going pandemic, when the emphasis was on reducing the epidemic burden rather than trial design. Findings from these 25 studies suggested an important public health role for testing followed by isolation, especially where mass and serial testing was used to reduce transmission. Some of the most compelling analyses came from examining fine-grained within-country data on contact tracing; while broader studies which compared behaviour between countries also often found TTI led to reduced transmission and mortality, this was not universal. There was limited evidence for the benefit of isolation of cases/contacts away from the home environment. One study, an RCT, showed that daily testing of contacts could be a viable strategy to replace lengthy quarantine of contacts. Based on the scarcity of robust empirical evidence, we were not able to draw any firm quantitative conclusions about the quantitative impact of TTI interventions in different epidemic contexts. While the majority of studies found that testing, tracing and isolation reduced transmission, evidence for the scale of this impact is only available for specific scenarios and hence is not necessarily generalizable. Our review therefore emphasizes the need to conduct robust experimental studies that help inform the likely quantitative impact of different TTI interventions on transmission and their optimal design. Work is needed to support such studies in the context of future emerging epidemics, along with assessments of the cost-effectiveness of TTI interventions, which was beyond the scope of this review but will be critical to decision-making. This article is part of the theme issue 'The effectiveness of non-pharmaceutical interventions on the COVID-19 pandemic: the evidence'.

Type: Article
Title: Effectiveness of testing, contact tracing and isolation interventions among the general population on reducing transmission of SARS-CoV-2: a systematic review
Location: England
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2023.0131
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1098/rsta.2023.0131
Language: English
Additional information: © 2023 The Authors. Published by the Royal Society under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/, which permits unrestricted use, provided the original author and source are credited.
Keywords: Contact tracing, Epidemics, Infectious diseases, SARS-CoV-2, Testing, Transmission contol, Humans, SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, Contact Tracing, Public Health, Pandemics
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Inst of Clinical Trials and Methodology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Institute for Global Health
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > School of Life and Medical Sciences > Faculty of Population Health Sciences > Inst of Clinical Trials and Methodology > MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10176054
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