New study shows how long coronaviruses live on different surfaces and how to disinfect them

Two months after its appearance, virologists are still trying to better understand the Wuhan coronavirus, now officially named COVID-19. Important information to know is notably the lifespan of the virus when it is deposited on surfaces or objects. In view of its resemblance to the other known human coronaviruses, SARS and MERS, researchers recently suggested that COVID-19 could remain active for more than a week on the surfaces where it is deposited. Results that demonstrate how necessary it is to disinfect any surfaces that patients may have been in contact with.

By examining the scientific literature on all human and veterinary viruses available in this family, including 22 studies, the researchers found that human pathogens can persist on surfaces and remain infectious at room temperature for up to nine days. (To put this in perspective, the measles virus can live on contaminated surfaces for up to two hours).

This is certainly the upper end of the lifespan of a coronavirus, but on average, researchers say that this family of viruses can survive between four and five days on various materials such as aluminum, wood, paper, plastic and glass. Some of the veterinary coronaviruses - those that can only infect animals - may even persist for more than 28 days.

Thoroughly disinfect all surfaces potentially harboring the virus

"Low temperatures and high air humidity further increase their lifespan," explains doctor Günter Kampf from the Greifswald University Hospital. To reduce the spread of coronaviruses in general, the authors of the new study, published in the Journal of Hospital Infection , suggest that hospitals carefully disinfect surfaces with various solutions based on sodium hypochlorite, hydrogen peroxide or d ethanol.

Table showing the lifespan of different strains of coronavirus on several types of surfaces. Credits: Günter Kampf et al. 2020

In their study, they found that these specific WHO recommendations were "very effective" against SARS and MERS. The results were originally intended for a future manual, but in these circumstances, the authors felt that it was better to publish their results in advance. They believe that these could also extend to COVID-19.

Results for SARS and MERS applied to COVID-19

"Different coronaviruses were analyzed and the results were all similar," explains virologist Eike Steinmann of Leibniz University. However, none of the viruses was COVID-19, and the team indicated that they did not have data to determine whether the hands may be contaminated with coronavirus after contact with the patient or after touching contaminated surfaces.

Although MERS is not as easily transferred from one person to another as other coronaviruses, SARS is spread rather effectively each time an infected person sneezes or coughs. If the mucus lands on a surface affected by a person later, then they can become infected, even if contact occurs days after the initial exposure.

Given the threat it could pose to COVID-19, washing your hands often and ensuring that public spaces are disinfected seems to be a small price to pay. "In hospitals, for example, they can be door handles, but also call buttons, bedside tables, bed frames and other objects in the immediate vicinity of patients, which are often made of metal or plastic”.


Persistence of coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces and its inactivation with biocidal agents

Günter Kampf, Daniel Todt, Stephanie Pfaender,Eike Steinmann

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