Persistence of SARS-CoV-2 virus and viral RNA in relation to surface type and contamination concentration
Paton S., Spencer A., Garratt I., Thompson K-A., Dinesh I., Aranega-Bou P., Stevenson D., Clark S., Dunning J., Bennett A., Pottage T.
The transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is likely to occur through a number of routes, including contact with contaminated surfaces. Many studies have used RT-PCR analysis to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA on surfaces but seldom has viable virus been detected. This paper investigates the viability over time of SARS-CoV-2 dried onto a range of materials and compares viability of the virus to RNA copies recovered, and whether virus viability is concentration dependant. Viable virus persisted for the longest time on surgical mask material and stainless steel with a 99.9% reduction in viability by 122 and 114 hours respectively. Viability of SARS-CoV-2 reduced the fastest on a polyester shirt, with a 99.9% reduction within 2.5 hours. Viability on the bank note was reduced second fastest, with 99.9% reduction in 75 hours. RNA on all the surfaces exhibited a one log reduction in genome copy recovery over 21 days. The findings show that SARS-CoV-2 is most stable on non-porous hydrophobic surfaces. RNA is highly stable when dried on surfaces with only one log reduction in recovery over three weeks. In comparison, SARS-CoV-2 viability reduced more rapidly, but this loss in viability was found to be independent of starting concentration. Expected levels of SARS-CoV-2 viable environmental surface contamination would lead to undetectable levels within two days. Therefore, when RNA is detected on surfaces it does not directly indicate presence of viable virus even at high CT values. Importance This study shows the impact of material type on the viability of SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces. It demonstrates that the decay rate of viable SARS-CoV-2 is independent of starting concentration. However, RNA shows high stability on surfaces over extended periods. This has implications for interpretation of surface sampling results using RT-PCR to determine the possibility of viable virus from a surface, where RT-PCR is not an appropriate technique to determine viable virus. Unless sampled immediately after contamination it is difficult to align RNA copy numbers to quantity of viable virus on a surface.