Hospital surfaces are not likely to be contaminated with COVID-19

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Hospital surfaces are not likely to be contaminated with COVID-19 and was detectable in just 2% of surfaces swabbed, study finds

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  • Researchers collected samples every two weeks from March 2020 to mid-August 2020 in COVID-19 patient and staff areas
  • Just 2% of swabbed areas – such as floors, hand sanitizing stations, ventilators and soiled linens – tested positive for coronavirus
  • The genetic material could be picked up from a surface but was not enough to be infectious
  • These findings suggests that surface transmission is rare and add to the evidence that COVID-19 is mainly spread through droplets

Hospital surfaces are not likely to be contaminated with the novel coronavirus, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that just two percent of all patient and staff areas that were swabbed came back positive for having genetic material of the virus that causes COVID-19.

But although the viral RNA could be picked up from a surface, it was not enough to be infectious.

The team, from the University of California, Davis, says the findings add to the growing body of evidence suggesting surface transmission is a rare method for COVID-19 to spread.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, collected samples every two weeks from March 2020 to mid-August 2020 in COVID-19 patient and staff areas (file image)

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, collected samples every two weeks from March 2020 to mid-August 2020 in COVID-19 patient and staff areas (file image)

Just 2% of swabbed areas in August - such as floors, hand sanitizing stations, ventilators and soiled linens - tested positive for coronavirus

Just 2% of swabbed areas in August – such as floors, hand sanitizing stations, ventilators and soiled linens – tested positive for coronavirus

When the pandemic first hit the U.S. in spring 2020, health experts told Americans to be careful of surface transmission.

Doctors encouraged the public to wash their hands thoroughly or to use hand sanitizer if soap and water weren’t available.

Subways in New York closed for overnight cleanings and restaurants worked to lure customers back in by sanitizing tables in between parties and offering QR codes to access menus.

Since then, scientists have learned that the virus is not typically spread through particles that linger on commonly touched areas but rather via air droplets.

The new research adds to the evidence that surface transmission is rare, and which areas of a hospital are more infectious.

The genetic material could be picked up from a surface that test positive for COVID-19 but was not enough to be infectious. Pictured: Representation of a swabbed patient's room

The genetic material could be picked up from a surface that test positive for COVID-19 but was not enough to be infectious. Pictured: Representation of a swabbed patient’s room

For the study, published in PLOS One, the team collected samples every two weeks from March 2020 to mid-August 2020 in COVID-19 patient and staff areas.

Swabs were taken from multiple areas including computer stations, hand sanitizer stations outside and inside a patient’s room, the floor, whiteboards. ventilators, IV pumps, nightstand stands and soiled linens.

The researchers analyzed the surface swabs via genome sequencing to see if they could detect genetic material.

Although there was an increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients during the summer surge, the number of positive swabs fell from 11 percent in April to two percent in August.

In a representative patient room, for example, out of 23 samples, there were four positives: at a computer station, in the soiled linen basket, on the telemetry screen and on part of the ventilator.

The results showed that although coronavirus RNA could be picked up from a surface, it was not infectious.

Researchers say this adds to the evidence that contaminated surfaces are not a main way that COVID-19 is spread.

‘Our team was the first to demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 virus sequences could be identified from environmental swabs collected from hospital surfaces,’ said senior author Dr Angela Haczku, a respiratory immunologist at UC Davis, in a statement.

‘The reduction in the virus contamination was likely due to improved ICU patient management and cleaning protocols.’

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