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 published as a research letter in The New England Journal of Medicine.
A team of researchers from the National Institutes of Health (NIH); the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the University of California, Los Angeles; and Princeton University found that severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was detectable in aerosols for up to 3 hours, for up to 4 hours on copper, for up to 24 hours on cardboard, and for up to 2 to 3 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/or 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 scientists highlighted additional questions and observations from their study:
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.
The authors concluded, “These findings echo those with SARS-CoV-1, in which these forms of transmission were associated with nosocomial spread and super-spreading events, and they provide information for pandemic mitigation efforts.”
Disclosure: For full disclosures of the study authors, visit nejm.org.