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Coronavirus: How long can Covid-19 survive on plastic, metal and other surfaces?

Studies suggest that the virus can live for days outside the body, depending on the surface.
Mar 23rd 2020, 3:36 PM 107,767 41

COVID-19 HAS CHANGED a lot of things, but one reminder that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic is how everyone around us is treating surfaces a little differently.

Contactless payments have replaced cash, shoulders have replaced door handles and elbow-bumps have replaced handshakes.

All of these measures are important to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and stem from official HSE and World Health Organisation (WHO) guidance to keep your hands clean and regularly clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Because the virus is a new disease, it’s not entirely known how long it survives on different surfaces. Generally speaking, coronaviruses can last for relatively long periods outside the human body.

But what about the new coronavirus?

Comparable viruses

Official advice from the WHO states that it is not certain how long the virus that causes Covid-19 can survive outside the body.

However, the same guidance does note that the new virus appears to behave like other coronaviruses that have been tested before.

It also mentions studies which suggest that coronaviruses can last on surfaces for a few hours or several days, depending on their environment.

One study, recently published in the Journal of Hospital Infection, looked at how long other coronaviruses – like SARS and MERS - survived on materials including paper, glass, plastic and various metals at different temperatures.

It found that different strains of SARS survived on

  • Paper for up to five days
  • Glass for up to four days
  • Metal for up to five days
  • Plastic for up to nine days

Meanwhile, MERS was found to survive on steel and plastic at 20 degrees Celsius for up to 48 hours.

What about Covid-19?

Another new study, which has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, specifically examined the longevity of Covid-19.

This study looked at ten different experimental conditions involving two viruses, SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes Covid-19) and SARS-CoV-1 (the virus that caused SARS) in aerosols – to reproduce coughing – plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard.

The findings suggested that the virus that causes Covid-19 could survive:

  • In aerosols for up to three hours
  • On cardboard for up to 24 hours
  • On plastic and stainless-steel surfaces for up to three days.

The authors specifically noted that SARS-CoV-2 can remain “viable and infectious” on surfaces for days. This echoed many of the findings the researchers had with SARS-CoV-1.

Unfortunately, the study did not look at how long the virus could survive on clothing and other surfaces.

Cleaning surfaces

Another aspect of the Covid-19 outbreak is the advice from health officials for us to engage in regular hand-washing.

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Rather than waiting days for coronaviruses to just stop being viable, it’s possible to use products like alcohol gel and bleach to kill them

And although it didn’t examine the virus that causes Covid-19, one important aspect of the Journal of Hospital Infection study was that it looked at the effects that chemicals have on killing these viruses. 

It found that strong concentrations of ethanol (chemical alcohol) – that is, above 70% – effectively managed to kill SARS and MERS within minutes.

Similarly, 0.5% of hydrogen peroxide bleach or household bleach containing 0.1% sodium hypochlorite were found to be effective for cleaning surfaces.

This is why health officials are issuing these reminders.

To avoid catching and spreading the virus, remember to wash your hands properly and often, and to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.

The HSE also advises against touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands are not clean, to avoid shaking hands, and not to share objects that touch your mouth like bottles and cups.

If you want a reminder of the best way to wash your hands, here’s a quick video:

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Stephen McDermott


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