Coronavirus can survive for nearly four weeks on mobile phone screens and banknotes, Australian researchers confirm

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Researchers at the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP) – have now concluded that coronavirus may remain infectious for weeks on banknotes, glass and other common surfaces.

Highlighting the risk of getting infected by the virus from paper currency, touchscreen devices and grab handles and rails, researchers  have found that SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for COVID-19, can survive for up to 28 days on common surfaces including banknotes, glass – such as that found on mobile phone screens – and stainless steel.

Scientists at Australia’s leading biosecurity laboratory CSIRO said the research undertaken at ACDP in Geelong, found that SARS-CoV-2:

  • survived longer at lower temperatures
  • tended to survive longer on non-porous or smooth surfaces such as glass, stainless steel and vinyl, compared to porous complex surfaces such as cotton
  • survived longer on paper banknotes than plastic banknotes

Results from the study The effect of temperature on persistence of SARS-CoV-2 on common surfaces was published in Virology Journal.

CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said, “Establishing how long the virus really remains viable on surfaces enables us to more accurately predict and mitigate its spread, and do a better job of protecting our people.”

“Our results show that SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious on surfaces for long periods of time, reinforcing the need for good practices such as regular handwashing and cleaning surfaces,” ADCP Deputy Director Dr Debbie Eagles said.

“At 20 degrees Celsius, which is about room temperature, we found that the virus was extremely robust, surviving for 28 days on smooth surfaces such as glass found on mobile phone screens and plastic banknotes. For context, similar experiments for Influenza A have found that it survived on surfaces for 17 days, which highlights just how resilient SARS-CoV-2 is.”

The research involved drying virus in an artificial mucus on different surfaces, at concentrations similar to those reported in samples from infected patients and then re-isolating the virus over a month. Further experiments were carried out at 30 and 40 degrees Celsius, with survival times decreasing as the temperature increased.

The study was also carried out in the dark, to remove the effect of UV light as research has demonstrated direct sunlight can rapidly inactivate the virus.“While the precise role of surface transmission, the degree of surface contact and the amount of virus required for infection is yet to be determined, establishing how long this virus remains viable on surfaces is critical for developing risk mitigation strategies in high contact areas,” Dr Eagles said.

ACDP Director Prof Trevor Drew said many viruses remained viable on surfaces outside their host. “How long they can survive and remain infectious depends on the type of virus, quantity, the surface, environmental conditions and how it’s deposited – for example touch vs droplets emitted by coughing,” Professor Drew said.

“Proteins and fats in body fluids can also significantly increase virus survival times.”

The research may also help to explain the apparent persistence and spread of SARS-CoV-2 in cool environments with high lipid or protein contamination, such as meat processing facilities and how we might better address that risk.

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