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A new US study has found that the virus that causes COVID-19, often referred to as the coronavirus, can remain on certain surfaces for up to several days.
Carried out by researchers from University of California Los Angeles, the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Princeton University, the new study attempted to replicate the virus being deposited by an infected person through coughing or touching objects of plastic, stainless steel, copper, and cardboard and in aerosols.
The researchers then analyzed for how long they could detect the virus in these five experimental conditions.
The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, showed that people may be able to catch the coronavirus through the air and after touching contaminated objects up to days after the virus has been deposited. The team were able to detect the virus in aerosols for up to three hours after it had been deposited, and for up to four hours on copper and up to 24 hours on cardboard. On plastic and stainless steel, the virus was still detectable up to two to three days later.
"This virus is quite transmissible through relatively casual contact, making this pathogen very hard to contain," said James Lloyd-Smith, a co-author of the study. "If you're touching items that someone else has recently handled, be aware they could be contaminated and wash your hands."
Lloyd-Smith and his colleagues already reported back in February that screening travelers for COVID-19 is not very effective, as those infected with the virus may be spreading it without even knowing they have it, as the majority of cases show no symptoms for five days or longer after exposure.
"Many people won't have developed symptoms yet," Lloyd-Smith said. "Based on our earlier analysis of flu pandemic data, many people may not choose to disclose if they do know."
The researchers say that the findings support the current guidelines from public health professionals on how to slow the spread of COVID-19, which advise the general population to avoid close contact with people who are sick, stay home when they themselves are sick, avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, cover coughs or sneezes with a tissue, and then throw the tissue in the trash, clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a household cleaning spray or wipe.
The World Health Organization also advises frequent hand washing with soap and water or using an alcohol rub if soap and water are not available as one of the main ways to defend yourself against the virus.