Coronavirus Can Live on Plastic and Stainless Steel For 3 Days

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Scanning electron microscope image of caronavirus COVID19 (yellow)
emerging from the surface of cells (blue/pink).

The virus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days in aerosols and on surfaces, according to a new study from National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists The New England Journal of Medicine.

The scientists found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

The results provide key information about the stability of SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19 disease, and suggests that people may acquire the virus through the air and after touching contaminated objects.

The NIH scientists, from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ Montana facility at Rocky Mountain Laboratories, compared how the environment affects SARS-CoV-2 and SARS-CoV-1, which causes SARS. SARS-CoV-1, like its successor now circulating across the globe, emerged from China and infected more than 8,000 people in 2002 and 2003. SARS-CoV-1 was eradicated by intensive contact tracing and case isolation measures and no cases have been detected since 2004. SARS-CoV-1 is the human coronavirus most closely related to SARS-CoV-2. In the stability study the two viruses behaved similarly, which unfortunately fails to explain why COVID-19 has become a much larger outbreak.

The NIH study attempted to mimic virus being deposited from an infected person onto everyday surfaces in a household or hospital setting, such as through coughing or touching objects. The scientists then investigated how long the virus remained infectious on these surfaces.

The findings affirm the guidance from public health professionals to use precautions similar to those for influenza and other respiratory viruses to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.

Source: N. van Doremalen, et al. Aerosol and surface stability of HCoV-19 (SARS-CoV-2) compared to SARS-CoV-1. The New England Journal of Medicine. DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973 (2020).

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