After weeks of speculation, scientists have some sense of how long the novel coronavirus 2019-nCoV, now officially called SARS-CoV-2, might survive on surfaces and inanimate objects waiting to infect an unsuspecting host.
A new review suggests that SARS-CoV-2 – not to be confused with the newly-named COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus – could survive on surfaces and remain infectious at room temperature for up to nine days. Promisingly, the research also suggests that disinfecting agents such as ethanol (alcohol), hydrogen peroxide (bleach), and sodium hypochlorite (another bleaching agent) are generally very effective against coronaviruses.
Reporting in the Journal of Hospital Infection, virologists from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany reached these conclusions by evaluating 22 previous studies on other members of the coronavirus family, which includes SARS and MERS. The team actually intended to publish this analysis in an upcoming textbook, but the recently novel coronavirus outbreak provoked them to release their work as a study.
While no new original research was carried out specifically on SARS-CoV-2, the researchers argue their findings can be applied to the current coronavirus outbreak, as the results across all coronaviruses were comparable.
"Different coronaviruses were analyzed, and the results were all similar," Eike Steinmann, study author from Leibniz University Hanover, explained in a statement.
As per their findings, some coronaviruses can persist on surfaces at room temperature for up to nine days, although the average survived between four and five days. They also manage to persist on a number of different materials, including steel, aluminum, wood, paper, plastic, latex, and glass.
"Low temperature and high air humidity further increase their lifespan,” added Professor Günter Kampf from the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the Greifswald University Hospital.
Droplet infection, whether it's a common cold or a coronavirus, can often spread through airborne transmission by coughs and sneezes launching the pathogen into air onboard tiny droplets of mucus. Another common mode of transmission is via hands and surfaces that are frequently touched.
"In hospitals, these can be door handles, for example, but also call buttons, bedside tables, bed frames and other objects in the direct vicinity of patients, which are often made of metal or plastic," said Professor Günter Kampf.
Like many aspects of the virus, it’s remained unclear how effectively SARS-CoV-2 could spread through contaminated surfaces. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has taken a cautious stance on the transmissibility of the novel coronavirus, saying “it’s currently unclear if a person can get 2019-nCoV by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.”
Although this research is far from a definitive answer, it does suggest that SARS-CoV-2 could potentially hitchhike on an object and survive for about one week. If accurate, this could hold some implications for how authorities attempt to contain and quell the ongoing outbreak.