Human Coronavirus 229E Remains Infectious on Common Touch Surface Materials

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Warnes, Sarah L. ; Little, Zoë R. ; Keevil, C. William (2015)

The evolution of new and reemerging historic virulent strains of respiratory viruses from animal reservoirs is a significant threat to human health. Inefficient human-to-human transmission of zoonotic strains may initially limit the spread of transmission, but an infection may be contracted by touching contaminated surfaces. Enveloped viruses are often susceptible to environmental stresses, but the human coronaviruses responsible for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) have recently caused increasing concern of contact transmission during outbreaks. We report here that pathogenic human coronavirus 229E remained infectious in a human lung cell culture model following at least 5 days of persistence on a range of common nonbiocidal surface materials, including polytetrafluoroethylene (Teflon; PTFE), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), ceramic tiles, glass, silicone rubber, and stainless steel. We have shown previously that noroviruses are destroyed on copper alloy surfaces. In this new study, human coronavirus 229E was rapidly inactivated on a range of copper alloys (within a few minutes for simulated fingertip contamination) and Cu/Zn brasses were very effective at lower copper concentration. Exposure to copper destroyed the viral genomes and irreversibly affected virus morphology, including disintegration of envelope and dispersal of surface spikes. Cu(I) and Cu(II) moieties were responsible for the inactivation, which was enhanced by reactive oxygen species generation on alloy surfaces, resulting in even faster inactivation than was seen with nonenveloped viruses on copper. Consequently, copper alloy surfaces could be employed in communal areas and at any mass gatherings to help reduce transmission of respiratory viruses from contaminated surfaces and protect the public health.<br/><br/>Importance: respiratory viruses are responsible for more deaths globally than any other infectious agent. Animal coronaviruses that “host jump” to humans result in severe infections with high mortality, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and, more recently, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). We show here that a closely related human coronavirus, 229E, which causes upper respiratory tract infection in healthy individuals and serious disease in patients with comorbidities, remained infectious on surface materials common to public and domestic areas for several days. The low infectious dose means that this is a significant infection risk to anyone touching a contaminated surface. However, rapid inactivation, irreversible destruction of viral RNA, and massive structural damage were observed in coronavirus exposed to copper and copper alloy surfaces. Incorporation of copper alloy surfaces in conjunction with effective cleaning regimens and good clinical practice could help to control transmission of respiratory coronaviruses, including MERS and SARS
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