The disturbing amount of time coronavirus can survive on your skin

In response to national coronavirus surges, health officials are ramping up contact tracing initiatives.

Despite all indicators suggesting continued spikes into winter, the workforce can’t really survive another round of complete immobility.

To compensate, it’s imperative that commuters keep up to date on transmission risks.

Ladders recently covered new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the face masks that offer the best protection: double-layer cotton, N-95, and K-95 masks–without valves.

Now, new research published in the journal of Clinical Infectious Disease examines the stability of the SARS-CoV-2 virus staffing our pandemic.

“The stability of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) on human skin remains unknown, considering the hazards of viral exposure to humans,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “We generated a model that allows the safe reproduction of clinical studies on the application of pathogens to human skin and elucidated the stability of SARS-CoV-2 on human skin.”

The model developed by the authors was designed to gauge the stability of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza on human skin surfaces as well as the disinfection effectiveness of ethanol against them.

Before analysis, the team collected skin from autopsy specimens, roughly one day after death.

Although both viruses remained active for a shorter period of time on skin compared to other surfaces, the novel coronavirus’ survival time was much longer than influenza’s.

Without intervention, SARS-CoV-2 remains active on skin for up to nine hours, which is eight hours longer than the survival time evidenced by the virus responsible for the flu.

Thankfully, ethanol was determined to deactivate both pathogens as quickly as 15 seconds after application.

Most sanitizers are composed of enough ethanol to get the job done, so be sure to include a pocket-sized disinfectant when traveling.

“The 9-hour survival of SARS-CoV-2 on human skin may increase the risk of contact transmission in comparison with IAV, thus accelerating the pandemic. Proper hand hygiene is important to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 infections,” the authors continued. “These results are similar to those of previous studies. Thus, this study may contribute to the development of better control strategies in the context of COVID-19 to prevent the occurrence of the second or third waves of this pandemic.”

It should be noted that only one SARS-CoV-2 strain and only one influenza strain were examined in service of the data above.

As previously covered by Ladders, RNA viruses like the novel coronavirus mutate relatively quickly, making some strains more transmissible than others.

In any case, the new report provides a reminder to adjust interpersonal countermeasures as we enter colder months.

Coronavirus virions remain infectious for at least three hours in aerosols and can remain active on plastic and stainless steel surfaces for roughly three days.

On cardboard, the virus remains viable for up to 24 hours. On copper, it takes roughly four hours for the virus to become deactivated. SARS-CoV-2 can live on smartphone screens, (assuming they’re composed of glass material) for up to 96 hours or just about four days. 

The numbers alone illustrate a frightening picture but the virus does not retain its full potency for the entire duration of these projected windows.

Sixty-six minutes after activated material leaves its host, half of the virus’s particles lose function while airborne. Another hour and six minutes later, 75% of viral material becomes inactive.

Getting sick from the coronvirus involves cumulative exposure. Masks, disinfectants, and social distancing ensure that one greatly reduce their chances of being exposed to enough virus to become seriously ill.

“Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is plausible since the virus can remain viable and infectious in aerosols for hours and on surfaces up to days (depending on the inoculum shed). These findings echo those with SARS-CoV-1, in which these forms of transmission were associated with the nosocomial spread and super-spreading events, and they provide information for pandemic mitigation efforts,” the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases concluded in a recent report.