Frontline healthcare workers with adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) have a three-fold increased risk of a positive SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) test, compared to the general population, said researchers.
Those with inadequate PPE had a further increase in risk, they added.
The study, published in the journal Lancet Public Health, also revealed that that healthcare workers from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were more likely to test positive.
"The findings of our study have a tremendous impact on healthcare workers and hospitals. The data is clear in revealing that there is still an elevated risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection despite the availability of PPE," said the study's senior author Sebastien Ourselin from King's College London in the UK.
"In particular we note that that the BAME community experience elevated risk of infection and in some cases lack access to adequate PPE, or frequently reuse equipment," Ourselin added.
Using the COVID Symptom Tracker App, the research team looked at data from 2,035,395 individuals and 99,795 front-line health-care workers in the UK and US.
The prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 was 2747 cases per 100,000 frontline healthcare workers compared with 242 cases per 100,000 people in the general community.
A little over 20 per cent of frontline healthcare workers reported at least one symptom associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection compared with 14.4 per cent of the general population; fatigue, loss of smell or taste, and hoarse voice were especially frequent.
BAME healthcare workers were at an especially high risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection, with at least a five-fold increased risk of infection compared with the non-Hispanic white general community, the study said.
The study not only shows the importance of adequate availability and use of PPE but also the crucial need for additional strategies to protect healthcare workers, such as ensuring correct application and removal of PPE and avoiding reuse which was associated with increased risk.
"I'm very pleased we have now introduced masks and social distancing where possible for all interactions in hospitals - to protect ourselves and the population we serve," said study author Claire Steves.
"We need to ensure this is reinforced and sustained throughout the health service - including in health care settings outside hospitals, for example in care homes," Steves added.
"Additional protective strategies are equally as important, such as implementing social distancing among healthcare staff. Stricter protocols for socialising among healthcare staff also need to be considered," the team noted.