How long does COVID-19 survive on skin? New study shows the importance of hand washing

Experts recommend washing hands, surfaces

Study: COVID-19 can survive on skin for 9 hours

DETROIT – Recently, there has been a lot of focus on how COVID-19 is spread through the air via droplets and aerosols, but now a new study is reemphasizing the continued importance of hand washing.

Toward the beginning of the pandemic, a study showed that the SARS-Cov-2 virus can survive on cardboard for as long as 24 hours and on stainless steel for about 72 hours. It highlighted the importance of cleaning surfaces that may have become significantly contaminated. The question remained -- what about our skin?

We know that SARS-CoV-2 can be spread through droplets and aerosols, but you can also become infected by touching and contaminated surfaces and then touching parts of your face, so how long can coronavirus survive on our hands and faces?

Figuring out how long a contagious virus can survive on human skin isn’t an easy challenge as not many people are willing to have live SARS-CoV-2 smeared on them just for science. That’s why Japanese researchers used an unusual alternative -- human skin collected at autopsy about 24 hours after death.

Their study, published in the journal "Clinical Infectious Diseases,” -- tested the survival time of the SARS-CoV-2 virus on human skin samples as well as other surfaces including stainless steel and glass and then compared it to the survival time of influenza a virus.

What they found was significant -- the SARS-CoV-2 virus could survive on human skin for nine hours -- significantly longer than the roughly two hours that the flu virus could remain a threat. Even more significantly, coronavirus 11 hours when it was mixed with mucus, as it would be from a cough or sneeze.

The good news is that when the samples were exposed to an 80% alcohol type hand sanitizer, the virus was inactivated within 15 seconds.

As far as the non skin surfaces that were tested, the SARS-CoV-2 virus survived for well over 72 hours on both glass and stainless steel, which supports previous studies that show the need for cleaning of contaminated surfaces.

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About the Author:

Dr. McGeorge can be seen on Local 4 News helping Metro Detroiters with health concerns when he isn't helping save lives in the emergency room at Henry Ford Hospital.