New Study Tracks How Fast Virus DNA Can Spread Across A Hospital Ward

Hospital mobile bed. Anna Jurkovska/Shutterstock

The SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for Covid-19 has infected over 7.4 million people and caused the death of more than 400,000 people. Now, researchers have published a study investigating how fast a DNA virus can spread on contaminated surfaces in a hospital setting.

As reported in the Journal of Hospital Infections, researchers placed DNA from a plant-infecting virus on a hospital bed rail and tracked how it spread. The virus used is completely harmless to humans. The team also added a small amount of water to the virus to replicate the concentration found in SARS-CoV-2 copies of infected patients.

After 10 hours, the plant-infecting virus was found in 41 percent of the sampled areas across the ward. After three days, it covered 59 percent of sites and on the fifth day fell back down to 41 percent. The study illustrates the importance of cleaning surfaces and good hygiene but does not determine whether SARS-CoV-2 would actually spread that way.

Given how novel SARS-CoV-2 is, there are still many unknowns regarding its spreading mechanism. This is why there is a major focus on wide-reaching good practices such as masks, physical distancing, goggles, and washing hands, which have been shown to help keep the virus at bay.

“People can become infected with Covid-19 through respiratory droplets produced during coughing or sneezing. Equally, if these droplets land on a surface, a person may become infected after coming into contact with the surface and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth,” co-author Dr Elaine Cloutman-Green, a lead healthcare scientist at the Great Ormond Street Hospital, said in a statement.

The highest proportion of virus DNA was found in the immediate vicinity of the bed. By the third day, 86 percent of the area near the bed tested positive. 

“Like SARS-CoV-2, the surrogate we used for the study could be removed with a disinfectant wipe or by washing hands with soap and water,” Dr Cloutman-Green continued. “Cleaning and handwashing represent our first line of defense against the virus and this study is a significant reminder that healthcare workers and all visitors to a clinical setting can help stop its spread through strict hand hygiene, cleaning of surfaces, and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

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