By now most of us are aware that the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 (more widely referred to as COVID-19) can be transmissible from an infected person through droplets not only in the air, but on surfaces as well. The virus can survive for different periods of time on various surfaces, which is important to know to help you to determine appropriate disinfecting practices to reduce the likelihood of transmission. This information can also help you select materials less hospitable to the virus.
How Long Does COVID-19 Live on Copper Surfaces?
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that COVID-19 remained viable in aerosols for up to 3 hours, on cardboard up to 24 hours, and on plastic and stainless steel for up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces. However, the virus remained contagious on copper for up to 4 hours; a significantly shorter time than on many other hard surfaces.
One reason why copper destroys disease-causing organisms is that it “enters the cell, perhaps as ions. When a lethal dose is reached, copper seems to interfere with normal cell functions and compromise membrane integrity. There is some evidence that copper impedes cell respiration and metabolism and causes DNA damage.” “This results in rapid death, which makes it unlikely that the cells will have sufficient time to reproduce.”
In a study published by the American Society for Microbiology in 2015, copper was found to kill several different, earlier strains of human coronavirus. “Exposure to copper surfaces results in morphological changes to human coronavirus particles visible in transmission electron microscopy (TEM).” “The mechanism of bacterial death on copper surfaces is complex, involving not only direct action of copper ion on multiple targets but also the generation of destructive oxygen radicals, resulting in “metabolic suicide”.”
Copper and copper alloys have been shown to retain their effectiveness of killing bacteria even after decades of use. “There is now a large body of evidence from laboratory studies and small clinical trials to suggest that incorporation of copper surfaces could play a significant role in reducing infection transmission from contaminated surfaces.”
Although using copper for high-touch surfaces does not eliminate the need for hand washing and disinfecting, using copper for objects such as door and cabinet handles, countertops, and railings is a passive way to reduce the length of time that viruses remain viable on surfaces. This in turn can play a role in minimizing the rate of transmission in shared spaces and common areas.
1. Neeltje van Doremalen, Trenton Bushmaker, Dylan H. Morris, Myndi G. Holbrook, Amandine Gamble, Brandi N. Williamson, Azaibi Tamin, Jennifer L. Harcourt, Natalie J. Thornburg, Susan I. Gerber, James O. Lloyd-Smith, Emmie de Wit, Vincent J. Munster. Aerosol and Surface Stability of SARS-CoV-2 as Compared with SARS-CoV-1. New England Journal of Medicine, 2020; DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973
2. Harold T. Michels, C. William Keevil, Cassandra D. Salgado, Michael G. Schmidt. From Laboratory Research to a Clinical Trial: Copper Alloy Surfaces Kill Bacteria and Reduce Hospital-Acquired Infections. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal, 2015; DOI: 10.1177/1937586715592650
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4. Warnes, S. L., Caves, V., Keevil, C. W. (2012). Mechanism of copper surface toxicity in Escherichia coli O157: H7 and Salmonella involves immediate membrane depolarization followed by slower rate of DNA destruction which differs from that observed for Gram-positive bacteria. Environmental Microbiology, 14, 1730–1743. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1462-2920.2011.02677.x
5. Weaver, L., Noyce, J. O., Michels, H. T., Keevil, C. W. (2010). Potential action of copper surfaces on meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 109, 2200–2205. DOI: http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2672.2010.04852.x
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