Viruses on Surfaces: How Long Can They Survive?

Viruses on Surfaces

We touch so many surfaces on a daily basis, from door handles to credit card keypads to cell phones. It’s an unavoidable truth of life. When it’s flu season — or any other virus outbreak — this simple act of touching things might spread germs. Let’s talk about that what does Viruses on Surfaces do?

In many cases, it’s cause for concern because some viruses can live on surfaces for hours — or even weeks. When a sick person sneezes on a surface, such as a credit card terminal at the gas pump, it’s not always clear how long it will remain infected.

Part of the uncertainty is because viruses are diverse and have a wide range of surface survival rates. There’s no hard and fast rule for how long a virus may survive can survive outside of a host. The type of surface and environmental temperature and humidity all come into play, too.

So, which surfaces are safe to touch, and how frequently should they be disinfected? Before we even discuss how long viruses can live on a surface, we have to understand how viruses work.

No Virus Is an Island

Viruses don’t have the right enzymes to create the chemical reactions necessary for reproduction. Viruses, on the other hand, need a host cell, which can be bacteria, fungi, plants, or animals, including humans. This is beneficial for the virus but harmful for the host.

A virus cannot survive long without the host cell; but, it does have a short window of time during which it can function in hopes of attaching to (aka infecting) a new host.

A virus can be classified into two categories – either it can be intact and remain infectious or it is simply identifiable, which means it has enough genetic material to be identified but is no longer capable of attaching to host cells. At the point that a virus on a surface is only identifiable, it won’t be able to cause harm.

How Long Can Viruses live on Surfaces?

The length of time that viruses can live on surfaces and remain infectious varies greatly by the pathogen. For example, rhinovirus, the viruses that cause the common cold, will only survive on surfaces for less than an hour. Others, like the norovirus, a virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea, can survive for weeks. Norovirus can spread through sick persons as well as contaminated foods and surfaces, which is not surprisingly given its ability to exist for such a long time outside of a host.

The non-peer-reviewed study discovered that the two viruses have similar viability in the environment, but that the novel coronavirus could live on stainless steel and plastic surfaces for up to three days. On other surfaces, survival was lower – one day on cardboard and four hours on copper. The results indicated that novel coronavirus can live in the air for hours and on surfaces up to days.

SARS-CoV-2 could survive for up to three hours in aerosol form. Viable coronavirus was and detected on plastic and stainless steel up to 72 hours after application. No viable coronavirus was measured after four hours on copper surfaces and 24 hours on cardboard.

Viruses on Surfaces

What Factors Affect Virus Survival Rates?

Even if it appears to be a simple test to determine an outside-host survival period, it’s more complicated than spraying a virus on a surface and waiting to see what happens. In general, pathogen survival on fomites is determined by inoculating a surface with a known quantity of virus and then sampling at various time intervals to determine the amount recovered.

The NIH and CDC team that researched coronavirus surface variation is now investigating virus viability in different matrices, as well as in varying environmental conditions.

Although viruses have differing baseline rates of survival on surfaces, additional factors affect their ability to endure outside of a host. Temperature, humidity, and surface properties can all affect survival.

Viruses survive longest at lower temperatures, higher humidity, and non-porous surfaces (such as stainless steel).  However, some viruses do well at low humidity

In addition to surface material and environment, the amount of virus on the surface can also help determine how long it will survive. While viruses like the cold and flu can be spread through sharing objects, the most typical way for viruses to spread is through personal contact.

There have been many speculations concerning whether coronavirus will decrease over the summer months since dry, cold air tends to provide favorable conditions for flu transmission.

Is it Possible to Catch a Virus from a Surface?

Is it true that if you touch a virus-infected surface, such as COVID-19, you will contract the virus? Not necessarily. However, if you don’t wash your hands right away and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, you could transmit the virus. The CDC, on the other hand, claims that surface contamination isn’t the most common way to get coronavirus. Without a host, viruses begin to degrade pretty quickly, so what is on the surface becomes less and less potent.

Wipe down surfaces such as doorknobs and cellphone screens when you can.

Despite differences in pathogen viability on surfaces, fomites, and contexts, the No. 1 recommendation for preventing virus spread is standard. Keep washing your hands.

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