LYME SCI: How long can coronavirus last on surfaces, anyway?
Imagine that the novel coronavirus is glitter. As you walk into a store, you touch a door coated with glitter. Now the glitter is on your hand. You then reach into your wallet and pay cash for your favorite beverage.
Leaving the store, you see your friend Jane and give her a high-five, transferring glitter to her hand, too. Then, you grab your phone, text your partner, and head out the door. When you get home, you wash your hands and note with satisfaction that all the glitter is gone.
Getting into her car, Jane leaves glitter on the door handle, her keys, the seat belt, and steering wheel. As she drives to work, she touches her eyes, ears, nose, and mouth—leaving traces of glitter everywhere her fingers make contact. Now Jane is infected with glitter.
Meanwhile, Jack, the cashier who took your cash, has glitter on his hands, too. After work, Jack goes home and greets his wife and kids with hugs and kisses. So now, every member of Jack’s family has glitter on them. And then his kids put their fingers in their mouths….
WE AREN’T DONE…You washed your hands thoroughly and even used a paper towel to turn off the glitter-contaminated faucets. But you did not clean your phone and it has glitter on it. Now, with your clean hands, you pick up your phone and, BAM! you’ve got glitter-fingers again! (This scenario was adapted from an anonymous posting on Twitter.)
Much is still unknown
SARS-CoV-2 (the official name of the coronavirus) and COVID-19 (the disease the virus causes) are still new, and scientists are still learning about them.
According to a research team led by the National institutes of Health, the virus can remain infectious for several hours in aerosols (liquid droplets floating in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes.) It can stay infectious much longer than that on hard surfaces, such as plastic or stainless steel.
More data has come from the cruise ships where outbreaks have taken place. Because we know exactly how many were on board of each ship, and exactly how many tested positive, we can now come up with some solid data.
In addition to this we are learning a lot more about transmission.
According to a recent CDC report, “SARS-CoV-2 RNA was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess but before disinfection procedures had been conducted.”
Like a fingerprint left behind
In an article in the Guardian newspaper, epidemiologist Dr. Julia Marcus explains:
“A CDC investigation of the cruise ship found evidence of viral RNA in cabins that hadn’t yet been cleaned. But to be clear, that just means the virus was detectable – not that it was viable or that contact with those services would have been able to infect someone.” (Editor’s note: RNA, or ribonucleic acid, carries the virus’s genetic information.)
In other words, RNA is like a fingerprint left behind by a burglar. It only proves that the virus WAS there, not necessarily that it IS there.
Unfortunately, several news agencies took this information and reported it as if the virus was still infectious after 17 days. It’s important to note that the presence of viral RNA does not mean it is necessarily still infectious.
Here is what we know from recent studies of how long the coronavirus can survive on various surfaces:
- In the air (aerosolized): 30 min – 3 hours
- On copper: up to 4 hours
- On cardboard: up to 24 hours
- On stainless steel: 48 hours
- On plastic: 72 hours
- On hard surfaces: 2-3 days
This means we must think about everything we touch and everything we bring into our homes—including food that is packaged in plastic containers.
Not everyone runs a fever
It’s also significant to note that not everyone with COVID-19 runs a fever, and not everyone gets a cough.
There is a subset of patients whose primary symptoms appear to be gastrointestinal. In these patients, there appears to be a higher level of virus in their fecal matter, and thus a possible mode of transmission.
One hospital study found toilet bowl and sink samples that were positive for the coronavirus. This suggests that flushing the toilet (which is known to aerosolize fecal matter) is a potential mode of transmission.
(So, let’s all close the lid before flushing and then thoroughly wash our hands, okay?)
According to the Diamond Princess cruise study, roughly half of all patients who tested positive for the virus were asymptomatic at the time of testing.
This is incredibly important. There could be hundreds of thousands of people out there right now who are infected but don’t know it. As they go through their daily lives, touching things and other people, they are unknowingly passing on the infection.
You may think, “Hey, I’m symptom free. I’ve got free time. I think I’ll go visit my grandparents.” BAD IDEA! or “My kids are out of school. Let’s have some friends over for a play date.” Another BAD IDEA!
Right now, community spread is the number-one way COVID-19 is being transmitted. This is why you and I and everybody else must stay home. If we can slow the process, we can save lives. I implore you: let’s spread the word, not the virus.
In the following video, Dr. Jeffrey VanWingen gives an excellent tutorial on how to shop safely during this time of quarantine.
LymeSci is written by Lonnie Marcum, a Licensed Physical Therapist and mother of a daughter with Lyme. Follow her on Twitter: @LonnieRhea Email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org .
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Public Health Responses to COVID-19 Outbreaks on Cruise Ships — Worldwide, February–March 2020. CDC—MMWR March 2020.
A familial cluster of pneumonia associated with the 2019 novel coronavirus indicating person-to-person transmission: a study of a family cluster. Lancet, February 2020.
Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. NEJM, March 2020.
Air, Surface Environmental, and Personal Protective Equipment Contamination by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) From a Symptomatic Patient. JAMA, March 2020
New coronavirus stable for hours on surfaces. NIH, March 2020
Epidemiologic Features and Clinical Course of Patients Infected With SARS-CoV-2 in Singapore. JAMA, March 2020
Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Different Types of Clinical Specimens. JAMA, March 2020
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