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Background: Household overcrowding is associated with increased risk of infectious diseases across contexts and countries. Limited data exist linking household overcrowding and risk of COVID-19. We used data collected from the Virus Watch cohort to examine the association between overcrowded households and SARS-CoV-2. Methods: The Virus Watch study is a household community cohort of acute respiratory infections in England & Wales that began recruitment in June 2020. We calculated the persons per room for each household and classified accommodation as overcrowded when the number of rooms was fewer than the number of people. We considered two primary outcomes - PCR-confirmed positive SARS-CoV-2 antigen tests and laboratory confirmed SARS-CoV-2 antibodies (Roche Elecsys anti-N total immunoglobulin assay). We used mixed effects logistic regression models that accounted for household structure to estimate the association between household overcrowding and SARS-CoV-2 infection. Results: The proportion of participants with a positive SARS-CoV-2 PCR result was highest in the overcrowded group (6.6%; 73/1,102) and lowest in the under-occupied group (2.9%; 682/23,219). In a mixed effects logistic regression model that included age, sex, ethnicity, household income and geographical region, we found strong evidence of an increased odds of having a positive PCR SARS-CoV-2 antigen result (Odds Ratio 3.72; 95% CI: 1.92, 7.13; p-value < 0.001) and increased odds of having a positive SARS-CoV-2 antibody result in individuals living in overcrowded houses (2.96; 95% CI: 1.13, 7.74; p-value =0.027) compared to people living in under-occupied houses. The proportion of variation at the household level was 75.1% and 74.0% in the PCR and antibody models respectively. Discussion: Public health interventions to prevent and stop the spread of SARS-CoV-2 should consider the much greater risk of infection for people living in overcrowded households and pay greater attention to reducing household transmission. There is an urgent need to better recognise housing as a leading determinant of health in the context of a pandemic and beyond.

Original publication




Journal article


Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

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