Concerns continue to grow about how long coronavirus can survive on surfaces, so much so China’s central bank has taken measures to deep clean and destroy its cash in an effort to contain the virus.
Whilst it is unknown exactly how long the novel coronavirus, named COVID-19, can linger on contaminated surfaces; some researchers are finding clues by studying the elusive behaviours of other coronaviruses.
Coronaviruses are a large group of viruses common among animals.
In rare cases, they are what scientists call zoonotic, meaning they can be transmitted from animals to humans, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Officials do not know what animal may have caused the current outbreak of novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China.
Previously, studies have suggested that people were infected with the coronavirus MERS, or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, after coming in contact with camels.
Scientists have suspected that civet cats were to blame for SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
Human coronaviruses, such as SARS and MERS, persist on inanimate surfaces including metal, glass or plastic for as long as nine days if that surface has not been disinfected, according to research published earlier this month in The Journal of Hospital Infection.
Cleaning with common household products such as bleach can make a difference, according to the research.
The research also found that human coronaviruses can be efficiently inactivated in under one minute with surface disinfection procedures with 62-71 per cent ethanol, 0.5 per cent hydrogen peroxide or 0.1 per cent sodium hypochlorite.
The study involved analysing 22 previously published studies on coronaviruses, which researchers hope can help provide insight into the novel coronavirus.
The Centre for Disease Control noted that coronaviruses are thought to spread most often by respiratory droplets, such as droplets in a cough or sneeze, and coronaviruses in general have “poor survivability” on surfaces.
“It may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” according to the Centre for Disease Control ‘s website.
Based on the current available data, SARS coronavirus is the closest relative to COVID-19 with 80 per cent sequence similarity, according to Dr. Charles Chiu, an infectious disease professor at the University of California, San Francisco.
“However, it is very difficult to extrapolate these findings to the novel coronavirus due to the different strains, viral titers and environmental conditions that were tested in the various studies and the lack of data on the novel coronavirus itself,” Dr Chiu said.
“My recommendations would be frequent hand-washing, avoiding contact with people who are sick, follow home quarantine recommendations according to the latest public health agency guidelines if you have recently travelled from China or were in contact with a known or suspected infected patient.
“It is still far more likely that you contract influenza rather than this novel coronavirus, meaning that you should get vaccinated for influenza as well.”
COVID-19 is not as deadly as other coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS according to Mr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization.
“More than 80 per cent of patients have mild disease and will recover. In about 14 per cent of cases, the virus causes severe diseases including pneumonia and shortness of breath and about 5 per cent of patients have critical diseases including respiratory failure, septic shock and multiorgan failure,” he said during a media briefing on Monday.
“In 2 per cent of reported cases, the virus is fatal, and the risk of death increases the older you are.”
While the COVID-19 fatality rate is lower than for SARS and MERS, it still seems to be comparable to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, according to Neil Ferguson, professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London.
Mr Ferguson said he believes the fatality rate is likely to be lower because of an “iceberg” of milder cases that have not yet been identified, but he highlights that novel viruses spread much more quickly through a population.