Study: Coronavirus Can Remain Infectious in Air for Hours

Three volunteers are infected with the common cold virus for research purposes at the Harvard Hospital in Wiltshire, 28th December 1955. From left to right, they are student Brenda Jeanes, German tourist Anne Weddig and civil servant Pat Brown. (Photo by FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The deadly and highly contagious novel coronavirus that has triggered a global pandemic can persist in droplets in the air for at least three hours, a new U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Tuesday revealed.

Scientists from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a component of NIH, conducted the study that also determined that the virus can survive on steel and plastic surfaces for three days.

The researchers also found that the virus remained on cardboard surfaces for 24 hours and on copper for four.

NIAID scientists used a device to dispense an aerosol that mirrored the microscopic droplets released when a person coughs or sneezes to test the viability of the virus in the air.

“Our results indicate that aerosol and fomite transmission of [novel coronavirus] is plausible since the virus can remain viable and infectious in aerosols for hours and on surfaces up to days,” the scientists reported.

The fact that the novel coronavirus can remain infectious in droplets in the air and on surfaces has likely fueled “community spread” among people who have not traveled.

NIAID scientists found that when the droplets created by a cough or sneeze carry the novel coronavirus, it can infect people for at least three hours.

They also determined that it takes a little over an hour (66 minutes) for half of the virus particles to decay if they are in an aerosol droplet.

Reuters explained:

That means that after another hour and six minutes, three quarters of the virus particles will be essentially inactivated, but 25% will still be viable. The amount of viable virus at the end of the third hour will be down to 12.5%, according to the research led by Neeltje van Doremalen of the NIAID’s Montana facility at Rocky Mountain Laboratories.

World Health Organization (WHO) officials have named the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, to identify it as a close relative of the Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus.

The organization named the infection caused by the virus, which originated in China, COVID-19. WHO has deemed the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.


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