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 in 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 study information was widely shared during the past two weeks after the researchers placed the
contents on a preprint server to quickly share their data with colleagues.
The study was conducted by researchers with the National Institutes of Health, the Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention, University of California-Los Angeles and
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 observations from their study:
If the viability of the two coronaviruses is similar, why is SARS-CoV-2 resulting in more cases?
Emerging evidence suggests that people infected with SARS-CoV-2 might be
spreading virus without recognizing, or prior to recognizing, symptoms.
This would make disease control measures that were effective against
SARS-CoV-1 less effective against its successor.
In contrast to SARS-CoV-1, most secondary cases of virus transmission of SARS-CoV-2 appear to be occurring
in community settings rather than healthcare settings. However, healthcare
settings are also vulnerable to the introduction and spread of SARS-CoV-2,
and the stability of SARS-CoV-2 in aerosols and on surfaces likely
contributes to transmission of the virus in healthcare settings.
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