What’s the evidence that respiratory viruses, including Covid-19, can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces?

Although no published data specific to Covid-19 is yet available, transmission by contact with contaminated surfaces has been implicated in infections due to several respiratory viruses, such as other human coronaviruses and influenza viruses. 1,2

A 2020 review article involving 22 published studies found that human coronaviruses such as SARS, MERS or common cold coronaviruses (eg, HCoV-229E) can persist on inanimate surfaces (eg, metal, glass or plastic) for hours up to 9 days depending on the level of initial viral contamination.1  

A recent NEJM study reported Covid-19 persisting  for 72 h on plastic and 48 h on stainless steel (3). Shorter survival was observed on cardboard (24 h or less) and copper surface (4 h or less). Although data on transmissibility of coronaviruses from contaminated surfaces to hands is not currently available, at least in the case of influenza A, a contact time of 5 seconds may transfer 31.6% of the viral load to the hands.4

But hand contamination doesn’t necessarily stop there.  We constantly touch our faces, including nose, eyes, and mouth, all serving as potential entry points for the virus.   One study found that, on average, subjects touched their faces 23 times per hour, with nearly one-half of that time involving either the nose, eyes or mouth. 5 Another study reported touching one’s face on average 19 times in a 2-hour period (range 0-105 times!).

For these reasons, environmental decontamination and hand hygiene have been stressed as part of the ongoing strategies to limit Covid-19 spread.

The good news is that coronaviruses are efficiently inactivated by many of the commonly available disinfectants and antiseptics, including 62%-71% ethanol, 70% isopropyl alcohol, 1:50 dilution of household bleach, and 0.5% hydrogen peroxide. 1

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  1. Kampf G, Todt D, Pfaender S, et al. Persistence of coronavirus on inanimate surfaces and their inactivation with biocidal agents. J Hosp Infect 2020;104:246-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/32035997
  2. Otter JA, Donskey C, Yezli S, et al. Transmission of SARS and MERS coronaviruses and influenza virus in healthcare settings: the possible role of dry surface contamination. J Hosp Infect 2016;92:235-250. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26597631/
  3.  van Doremalen N, Bushmaker T, Morris DH, et al. Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1. N Engl J Med 2020, March 17. https://www.nejm.org/doi/10.1056/NEJMc2004973
  4. Bean B, Moore BM, Sterner B, et al. Survival of influenza viruses on environmental surfaces. J Infect Dis 1982;146:47-51. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6282993
  5. Kwok YL, Garlton J, McLaws ML. Face touching: a frequent habit that has implications for hand hygiene. Am J Infect Control 2015;43:112-4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25637115
  6. Elder NC, Sawyer W, Pallerla H, et al. Hand hygiene and face touching in family medicine offices: a Cincinnati Area Research and Improvement group (CARInG) Network Study. J Am Board Fam Med 2014;27:339-346. https://www.jabfm.org/content/27/3/339.long
What’s the evidence that respiratory viruses, including Covid-19, can be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces?