Studies have shown that human coronaviruses can survive for days on certain surfaces. What does this mean for infection prevention efforts?
The outbreak of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, has now led to more than 69,000 cases of COVID-19 across the world. With this influx of cases comes an unparalleled amount of questions regarding control and response measures. While the world is inundated with information regarding the novel virus, in most cases the lessons learned from sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) have been guiding the way.
One concern that has captivated health care professionals and world leaders alike relates to the ability of coronaviruses to live on surfaces and inanimate objects. While some are worried about goods being shipped from China, the bigger issue for clinicians and infection prevention efforts is does SARS-CoV-2 require unique disinfection efforts?
Unfortunately, research is still needed to assess the differences in persistence of SARS-CoV-2 environmentally as compared with other human coronaviruses.
However, a new study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection evaluated coronavirus presence on inanimate objects as well as inactivation of the virus with biocidal agents.
With a goal of reviewing literature on the persistence of human and veterinary coronaviruses on inanimate objects, the investigators focused on 22 studies. From MERS to SARS, the study team found that coronaviruses “can persist on inanimate surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days, but can be efficiently inactivated by surface disinfection procedures with 62-71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite within 1 minute.”
Interestingly, the authors noted that data on the transmissibility of coronaviruses from contaminated surfaces to hands was not found. This was considered a likely source of transmission in health care settings as contamination on high-touch surfaces was a consistent theme.
While previous studies have demonstrated that just 5 seconds of contact with a surface contaminated with an influenza A virus can transfer 31.6% of the viral load to the hands, there is a gap in the literature regarding coronaviruses.
The likelihood that environmental contamination can occur and the potential for viral transmission through inanimate objects, efforts should be made to consistently and effectively clean and disinfect surfaces and objects. However, these findings do not change the cleaning practices for coronaviruses, including recommendations issued by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The environmental infection control measures for SARS-CoV-2 are not unexpected. Using dedicated medical equipment and adhering to manufacturer’s recommendations regarding disinfection, and practicing “routine cleaning and disinfection procedures (eg, using cleaners and water to pre-clean surfaces prior to applying an EPA-registered, hospital-grade disinfectant to frequently touched surfaces or objects for appropriate contact times as indicated on the product’s label) are appropriate for 2019-nCoV in health care settings, including those patient-care areas in which aerosol-generating procedures are performed.”
These recommendations are not atypical and reinforce that coronaviruses are not environmentally hardy. Despite the potential for the virus to live on surfaces for up to 9 days, it can easily be killed through standard health care cleaning and disinfection practices.
Despite the fear and concern surrounding this outbreak, this is a good reminder to stick to what is known and that steadfast infection control measures can help prevent disease transmission.