As the novel coronavirus continues to spread, much is still being discovered about how it behaves. This includes the different types of surfaces it is able to live on.
Most of what we know so far stems from a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine back in March. The experiment measured how long the virus that causes COVID-19 is able to live on a number of common household surfaces, such as stainless steel, cardboard and plastic. Under ideal conditions, the virus can be detected on these surfaces for up to several days after application.
The same study discovered that the virus is also able to live as fine partices in the air for up to three hours.
But aside from these more frequently used surfaces, it is also worth examining how the virus behaves on less conventional ones. Have you ever wondered whether COVID-19 can be found on your hair? What about your shoes? Or even on pets?
CTVNews.ca spoke with a couple of experts on infectious diseases about some of the more unusual surfaces COVID-19 may or may not be lurking on.
SHOULD I WIPE DOWN MY SHOES WHEN I GET HOME?
While there is a possibility for COVID-19 to be found on the average person’s shoes, the chances of it leading to infection are slim to none, said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious diseases physician with Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga, Ont. As a result, he insists it is not necessary to wipe your shoes down whenever returning home from outside.
“The likelihood of having an amount of virus on the shoes [that could infect you] if you touched it and then touched your nose, eyes or mouth would be…very low,” he told CTVNews.ca over the phone on Wednesday. “Even if you find evidence of virus on the shoes, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s alive.”
As outlined by the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets released from the mouth or nose. The infection spreads when a person with the virus coughs, sneezes, or exhales. While it is possible for someone to become infected by touching a surface contaminated with the virus, and then touching their eyes, nose or mouth, this is not believed to be the main source of transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Remember that the virus doesn’t jump – it has to get to your eyes, nose or mouth from touching [the shoes] first,” said Chakrabarti. “So the best way to protect yourself from this is that once you get home, take your shoes off and wash your hands.”
Be sure to clean your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, as recommended by the CDC, and avoid touching your face. Chakrabarti also suggests leaving your shoes in a designated area by the door; do not wear them inside the house.
Dr. Abdu Sharkawy, an infectious disease specialist with the University Health Network, agrees that the average person does not need to clean their shoes after going outside. But when it comes to health-care workers, he calls for more precaution, urging them to consistently wipe down their shoes with disinfecting wipes or a homemade bleach solution.
“That’s out of an abundance of caution, just knowing that the likelihood of coming across COVID-19 in a health-care institution is that much higher than walking down the sidewalk or being in front of Costco,” he told CTVNews.ca on Wednesday. “I think it just makes sense to take a little bit more caution with respect to protecting yourself and minimizing any sort of transmission from one environment to another.”
Experts recommend the same thing for clothing. While there are currently no studies on how COVID-19 behaves on fabric, the average Canadian should not be concerned about immediately changing out of their clothes once they get home. This may be a good idea, however, for frontline health-care workers.
IS THERE A CHANCE THE VIRUS COULD BE ON MY HAIR?
As long as you are practising physical distancing and keeping at least two metres away from those around you, experts say you do not need to be concerned about the virus getting on your hair. Even in situations where you may come into close contact with someone who has the virus, or an infected person coughs or sneezes on you, Chakrabarti said it is unlikely that droplets landing on your hair will lead to infection.
“Once the virus leaves your nasal passages, it’s now out of its natural habitat,” explained Chakrabarti. “Even if it’s detectable, it’s not something that’s likely going to infect you unless you happen to touch your hair at the very moment that person sneezes, and then right after that, touch your nose, eyes or mouth.”
Sharkawy also insists there is no reason the average person should wash their hair any differently in this scenario than they normally would.
“If you’re concerned, wash your hair,” he said. “But you don’t need to panic and dunk your head in soap and water if that happens; you don’t need to get Purell and rub it through your hair.”
Instead, he recommends sticking to your usual routine for washing your hair, along with practising physical distancing and making sure to wash your hands after returning home from outside.
WHAT ABOUT PACKAGES I GET IN THE MAIL?
There are currently no known cases of anyone becoming infected with COVID-19 as a result of opening a package or mail of any kind.
While the Public Health Agency of Canada warns that products shipped within or from outside the country could be contaminated with COVID-19, their risk of spreading the virus remains low. According to the agency, this is due to the fact that packages usually take days or even weeks to be delivered.
Under these conditions, Chakrabarti explains that the virus is prone to drying out, which makes it less infectious. As a result, he insists Canadians should not be particularly concerned about exposure to the virus though anything sent by mail.
“I wouldn’t do anything special with your mail,” he said. “Open it up just as you normally would…[and] when you’re done, wash your hands – that eliminates the problem.”
He also recommends quickly disposing of any packaging.
According to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, COVID-19 had a lifespan of about 24 hours. While some may believe this is good reason to wait a day before opening any packages received by mail, Sharkawy claims this is unnecessary.
“I think it’s just an arbitrary number that somebody is picking – how do you know that after 24 hours it’s gone?” he said. “The bottom line is you’re doing the harm by picking something up with contaminated hands, it’s not the duration of time that [the virus] may or may not be on an object.”
CAN MY PET CARRY THE VIRUS?
Despite reports of pet cats testing positive for COVID-19 in the state of New York, the PHAC claims “there is no evidence to suggest that pets or other animals play a role in transmitting the disease to humans.”
The agency assures it is OK for those without symptoms of the virus to continue interacting with their pets as usual. Those with symptoms or who are self-isolating, however, should apply physical distancing measures to their pets as well. This means avoiding close contact as well as coughing and sneezing away from your pet, and of course, washing your hands.
“Remember that you’re engaging in close contact with another living soul of some kind,” said Sharkawy. “If you’re going to be intimate in any way with your pet, go wash your hands when you’re done and don’t touch your face, and I think you should be just fine.”
When you are out walking your pet, it’s important to stay at least two metres away from those around you, and avoid crowded areas. Experts say that as long as you are practising physical distancing, it is not realistic for your pet to be carrying COVID-19 on its fur, for example.
“We should perceive our pets the same way we do ourselves,” said Sharkawy. “Continue to distance, don’t get into groups with other people [and] if you see somebody approaching you on one side [of the street], try and cross to the other side.
“Assume that your pet is an extension of yourself.”
Additionally, Chakrabarti does not advise changing anything about the way you already wash your pet – giving them a good scrub with soap and water is more than enough to keep them clean.