The coronavirus has killed nearly 1,400 people since it first emerged in China’s Hubei Province in December last year. The epidemic is being treated as a global emergency by the World Health Organization (WHO).
But very little is still known about the new coronavirus strain, which attacks the respiratory system with pneumonia-like symptoms.
The virus most likely spreads through direct contact with infected people, droplets of bodily fluids and may have originated with bats or snakes.
A review of 22 coronavirus studies has now looked into whether the pathogens can survive prolonged exposure to the elements on surfaces like metal, wood and glass.
There is a risk of the disease spreading when people touch infected surfaces and then touch their eyes, nose and mouth.
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According to Professor Günter Kampf from the Institute of Hygiene and Environmental Medicine at the Greifswald University Hospital, the risk is particularly high in hospitals.
He said: “In hospitals, these can be door handles, for example, but also call buttons, bedside tables, bed frames and other objects in the direct vicinity of patients, which are often made of metal or plastic.”
Professor Eike Steinmann, head of the Department for Molecular and Medical Virology at Ruhr-Universität Bochum added: “Under the circumstances, the best approach was to publish these verified scientific facts in advance, in order to make all information available at a glance.”
Based on their study, which focused on the SARS and MERS coronavirus strains, the pathogens can survive more than a week outside of the host’s body.
On average, the coronaviruses would survive between four and five days at room temperature.
Different coronaviruses were analysed, and the results were all similar
Professor Eike Steinmann, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
There are, however, factors that can extend the viruses’ lifespan when exposed.
Professor Kampf said: “Low temperature and high air humidity further increase their lifespan.”
The researchers also found various disinfectants based on ethanol, hydrogen peroxide and sodium hypochlorite were effective at eliminating the coronaviruses.
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Wiping down infected surfaces with “appropriate concentrations” helped lower the number of infectious pathogens from one million to just 100 particles.
Professor Kampf said: “As a rule, this is sufficient to significantly reduce the risk of infection.”
And although the study focused on strains of coronavirus other than COVID-19, the genetic similarities between the pathogens should make the findings transferable.
Professor Steinmann said: “Different coronaviruses were analysed, and the results were all similar.”
The ongoing coronavirus epidemic first emerged in China’s Hubei Province in December last year.
The outbreak was originally traced to busy seafood market in Wuhan City.
Health experts now believed COVID-19, formerly known as novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), was most likely contracted from an animal source.
The coronavirus family of pathogens is zoonotic, meaning it is carried by animals and humans.
In some cases, strains like severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) or Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) can attack humans.
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