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Coronavirus can last up to three days on surfaces and hours in the air, study finds

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

The coronavirus driving the current pandemic can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days, researchers say in a study published as a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The coronavirus driving the current pandemic can live on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for up to three days, researchers say in a study published as a letter to the editor in the New England Journal of Medicine.

And it can linger in aerosols - the suspension of tiny particles or droplets in the air - for three hours, the study says.

The study, funded by the US National Institutes of Health, has revealed that the stability of this virus SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, is "similar to that of SARS-CoV-1 under the experimental circumstances tested."

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SARS-CoV-1 is the virus that sparked the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic in 2002.

The results add to researchers' understanding of how long the new coronavirus can linger on surfaces and the air, though scientists have said more research is needed.

Some of the main findings include the following:

The study indicates that transmission of the new coronavirus is possible by aerosol and material, "since the virus can remain viable and infectious in aerosols for hours and on surfaces up to days," the researchers wrote.

"These findings echo those with SARS-CoV-1, in which these forms of transmission were associated with" spread in hospital settings, and in "super-spreading events," in which one case can trigger tens or hundreds of cases, the researchers wrote.

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Researchers still are investigating

A separate study published last month in The Journal of Hospital Infection found that human coronaviruses, such as the one that causes SARS, have been found to persist on inanimate surfaces, including metal, glass or plastic surfaces, for as long as nine days if that surface had not been disinfected.

That was of interest to researchers, because the SARS virus is the closest known relative to the new virus.

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A Pakistani volunteer helps a passenger arriving at a railway station to wash hands as a measure to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Researchers continue to investigate just how long the new coronavirus can linger on surfaces and even in the air, Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, an infectious disease epidemiologist at World Health Organization (WHO), said during a media briefing on Monday.

"As you know this is a virus that is transmitted through droplets and these are little pieces of liquid," Dr Van Kerkhove said.

"When they come out of an infected person and individual, they go a certain distance and then they settle ... in that situation, in health care facilities, it's very important that health care workers take additional precaution," she said.

Dr Van Kerkhove added that when an aerosol-generating procedure or activity occurs in a medical facility, that raises the risk for these particles of droplets to "stay in the air a little bit longer."

Here's how to disinfect

WHO has said that the new coronavirus is thought to spread mainly by respiratory droplets, such as droplets in a cough or sneeze.

Australis Centre for Disease Control has extensive guidelines and recommendations for how to disinfect different surfaces.  

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Everyday household cleaning products any other EPA-approved cleaning products are suitable for disinfecting the home and are often effective in killing any coronavirus particles.  

A workers disinfects a metro train car during a cleaning day at in Mexico City, Mexico.

"Community members can practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks) with household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface, following label instructions," the CDC said on their website.

The CDC recommends using gloves and cleaning dry surfaces with soap and water before applying heavier disinfectants such as bleach.

Why washing your hands is important

Coronavirus particles can also stick to your hands which is why it's important to maintain your hand hygiene, avoid touching your face and resist coughing or sneezing into your hands.

The WHO recommends people "regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water."

A man washes his hands during the first round of the municipal elections, in Lille, northern France, Sunday March 15, 2020.

The CDC recommends the follow five-step process to washing your hands and says while hand sanitizer is effective, washing your hands thoroughly is still the best way to maintain your hand hygiene.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the "Happy Birthday" song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
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Source: 9News

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