COVID-19 virus can linger on human skin much longer than flu viruses

COVID-19 virus can linger on human skin much longer than flu viruses
Sanitizer can’t clean your hands of sticky grease to which viruses can cling to.

Both these viruses can be rapidly inactivated with a hand sanitizer, said a new study underscoring the importance of handwashing or using a sanitiser.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : October 12, 2020 12:34 PM IST

The novel coronavirus has claimed over one million lives since the disease outbreak began in China's Wuhan city in December 2019. But still, no one can say when the pandemic will end. Around 200 vaccine candidates are under development around the world but experts are not sure if a vaccine can stop the pandemic. In the absence of a drug or vaccine, frequent handwashing, wearing face masks and social distancing are considered the best ways to stay safe from the deadly virus. A new study has revealed that the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, may linger on human skin for nine hours, underscoring the importance of handwashing or using a sanitiser.

The study, published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, Covid-19 can remain viable on human skin much longer than the flu viruses can. The researchers including those from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine in Japan noted that the influenza A virus (IAV) can remain active on human skin for nearly two hours.

A hand sanitizer can inactivate both Covid-19 and flu viruses

However, they found that both SARS-CoV-2 virus and IAV were rapidly inactivated on the skin with a hand sanitizer. The viruses were inactivated more rapidly on skin surfaces than on other surfaces such as stainless steel, glass, and plastic.

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In March, a study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated that the Covid-19 virus can last for about three hours in the air, up to four hours on copper, 24 hours on cardboard, and 72 hours on stainless steel.

According to the new study, the SARS-CoV-2 could survive significantly longer (9 hours) than IAV (1.82 hours). Therefore, proper hand hygiene is important to reduce the risk of contact transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the researchers said.

Hand sanitizer vs. soap and water

You may find using a hand sanitizer more convenient and easier than washing hands frequently with soap and water. But a sanitizer should not be a replacement for washing hands with soap and water. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% ethanol, only when soap and water aren't available.

According to health experts, soap and water can kill the Covid-19 virus more effectively than a hand sanitizer. In addition, washing can also remove any grease or dirt on your hands.

An alcohol-based hand sanitizer can destroy viruses too, but it may not work in certain situations. For instance, when you use the sanitizer on wet or sweaty hands, the alcohol in it may get diluted with water or sweat. This may diminish its effectiveness. Moreover, a sanitizer can't remove sticky grease on your hands to which viruses can cling to. There are also many side effects of using hand sanitizers.

Health experts of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have warned that the widespread use of hand-sanitizers, antimicrobial soaps, and antibiotics during Covid-19 can lead to more antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance is the ability of a pathogenic microbe to develop a resistance to the effects of an antimicrobial medication. It is estimated that by 2050, about 10 million people could be at risk every year if drug resistance is not managed.