Just this morning federal health officials released a press statement warning Americans about an inevitable outbreak within the U.S. “Disruption to everyday life may be severe,” explained Nancy Messonnier, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”Schools in some areas could be forced to close, businesses temporarily shuttered.”
Most of what we know about the quickening pace of COVID-19 is derived from other widespread zootonic infections like Ebola and influenza. In order for the new virus to be recognized as a pandemic it needs to meet three criteria:
- Successful person to person transmission
- Result in sickness and death
- Appear worldwide
COVID-19 evidences the first two factors and will almost certainly clear the final and most crucial one before the end of March.
As of February 25th, 80,000 cases have been confirmed globally and more than 2,600 people have succumbed to the illness. Transmission occurs the most reliably via exposure to infected fluid though a new meta-analysis published in the Journal Hospital Infection posits that the novel virus can survive on some surfaces for more than a week. The authors write:
“Human-to-human transmissions have been described with incubation times between two to 10 days, facilitating its spread via droplets, contaminated hands or surfaces. We, therefore, reviewed the literature on all available information about the persistence of human and veterinary coronaviruses on inanimate surfaces as well as inactivation strategies with biocidal agents used for chemical disinfection, e.g. in healthcare facilities.”
Immunization methods on the horizon
Not unlike many other respiratory infections, the detailed review of 22 previously conducted studies suggest surface material and room temperature further dictates the virus’s lifespan.
In fact, COVID-19 appears to demonstrate a similar pathology as other coronaviruses; most notably Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and the endemic human strain (HCoV).
All of the viruses listed above can remain infectious on glass, metal and plastic surfaces for up to ten days at a time and are weakened by temperatures reaching 30 or 40 degrees Celsius (roughly 86 degrees Fahrenheit and 104 degrees Fahrenheit, respectively).
The viruses studied were also successfully enfeebled by common household disinfectants. Products composed of 62-71% ethanol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1 % sodium hypochlorite deactivated infectious organisms in under 60 seconds.
Critical additions considering how often we forget to wash our hands after coming into contact with contaminated surfaces. It should be noted that Patricia A. Stinchfield, vice president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, is confident that infected materials imported from China pose an extremely low risk to US citizens. Without further testing nothing categorical can be said of COVID-19’s defense against environmental factors.
“The virus on materials they ordered would not survive such a trip. Outside the body, we believe this virus only survives on [an] object minutes to an hour or so, not the days it takes your goods to travel the globe,” Stinchfield explained to Fox News. “As always after handling things, wash your hands before touching your eyes, nose or mouth.”
In the meantime, US biotech firm Moderna recently shipped its first batch of experimental COVID-19 vaccines to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Alas, even if the immunization agent proves successful followup tests and regulatory approvals will table clinical trials until April at the earliest. And even then a certified vaccine wouldn’t be available to the public for another 18 months or so.
The new dose, called mRNA-1273, works a little differently than other infectious disease vaccinations. Typically medical professionals fortify our immune system against harmful organisms by administering enough of it into our body for our immune system to familiarize itself with it but not enough for it to make us ill. mRNA-1273, on the other hand, works by activating proteins in human cells geared to fight off toxic foreign bodies.
“The technology has had positive results from Phase 1 tests across six different vaccines, one of which is currently in a Phase 2 trial,” a Moderna spokesperson explained to CNN.
Be sure to check back for updates as the health crisis develops.