According to a recent study by scientists from the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA, and Princeton University, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, Coronavirus Disease Virus 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for hours to days in aerosols and surfaces. The researchers found that the causative agent of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 was detectable in aerosols up to three hours, on copper up to four hours, on cardboard up to 24 hours and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.
The results of the study provide key information on the stability of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, and suggest that humans can be infected not only with air droplets, but also through contact with contaminated objects.
Researchers at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Montana Facility at Rocky Mountain Laboratories (NIAID) compared the environmental impact on SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1, which causes SARS. SARS-CoV-1, like its successor, now circulating around the world, came from China and infected more than 8,000 people in 2002 and 2003. SARS-CoV-1 has been eradicated by intensive contact monitoring and consistent isolation measures; no new cases of disease have been identified since 2004. SARS-CoV-1 is the human coronavirus closest to SARS-CoV-2. In the stability study, both viruses behaved similarly, but unfortunately it is not possible to explain why COVID-19 causes a much larger epidemic.
The NIH study attempted to mimic the daily contamination of home or hospital surfaces by viruses from an infected person, for example, when coughing or touching objects. The researchers then examined how long the virus remained infectious on these surfaces.
Scientists emphasized further observations from their study:
If the viability of the two coronaviruses is similar, why does SARS-CoV-2 cause multiple cases of disease? Recent studies suggest that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 could spread the virus without visible clinical signs or just before they are recognized.
This would reduce the effectiveness of the anti-epidemic measures that were effective with SARS-CoV-1. Unlike SARS-CoV-1, most secondary cases of SARS-CoV-2 transmission appear to occur in the community environment rather than in healthcare settings. However, the health environment is also susceptible to the introduction and spread of SARS-CoV-2 and the stability of SARS-CoV-2 in aerosols and on surfaces is likely to contribute to virus transmission.
The findings are confirmed by public health experts who advise to use similar preventive measures as for influenza and other respiratory viruses to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2:
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Do not touch the eyes, nose and mouth.
- Stay home when people are sick.
- When coughing or sneezing, cover with a handkerchief, then throw it away.
- Clean and disinfect frequently used objects and surfaces with the usual household cleaner.
Source: NIAID RML