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Covid-19 Mythbusters: Surfaces

Published Mar 27, 2020


CAPE TOWN - Arguably one of the greatest fears South Africans have about Covid-19 is the details surrounding the number of ways a person is able to unknowingly become infected.

One of those ways to become infected with Covid-19 is by physically touching everyday items that are contaminated with the virus and then unknowingly touching your mouth, eyes, and nose.

So the question is rather about how long Covid-19 survives on surfaces for there to be a risk of infection ? And more specifically, how long does Covid-19 last on certain surfaces like plastics, cardboard, wood, and aluminium?

Dr. Akiko Iwasaki, professor of immunology at Yale University and Dr. Julia Marcus, an infectious disease epidemiologist in the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School clarify these points.

According to Iwasaki and Marcus, it is a much higher risk for people to become infected via direct contact with an infected person.

Mainly by breathing in particles directly from an infected host. But the virus is actually stable on various surfaces for a few days. So if you were in contact with a surface in the window period that it is stable, there is a chance of becoming infected with Covid-19.

In terms of specific materials, Marcus says that within a controlled laboratory setting; “They found that it was still detectable on copper for up to four hours, on cardboard for up to 24 hours, and on plastic and steel for up to 72 hours”.

Despite it being conducted in a laboratory setting, in very specific controlled conditions in regards to temperature of the room and movement of people for example. It does mean that you are able to become infected with Covid-19 by touching these materials and then touching your face, nose or mouth.

“The amount of virus decreased rapidly overtime on each of those surfaces. And so the risk of infection from touching them would probably decrease over time as well”.

The risk decreases over time because you need a certain amount of Covid-19 viral particles on a surface, to then transmit to your hand, then to your face to become infected.

“Some viruses are very potent, you only need like 10 particles to get infected, while others you [may] need millions,” says Iwasaki.

It is therefore incredibly important to wash your hands after going to supermarkets. If you wear gloves, to dispose of those gloves in a bin and to refrain from touching your face with the gloves on.

The National lockdown is to enforce social distancing, in order to reduce the number of infections so our National health system can cope with the daily increase of confirmed cases.

Do your part. Stay inside, and always practise good hygiene to save lives.

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