Science

The spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 has spurred a surge in sales of cleaning and disinfection products. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, along with thorough hand washing—both standard practices for helping slow the spread of viruses and bacteria. 

Although there’s good evidence the novel coronavirus is one of the easiest types of viruses to kill, scientists are still determining its exact nature and how big a role surface transmission plays in its spread. As researchers rush to understand the new pathogen, the US EPA is working to provide the public with information about disinfectants that can help slow its spread.

How do we know disinfectants should kill the COVID-19 coronavirus? The novel virus is one of the easiest virus types to deactivate, though SARS-CoV-2–specific data are lacking.

Under an emerging viral pathogens program developed for just this kind of scenario. (The EPA regulates antimicrobial products as pesticides.) Under the program, which was introduced in 2016 and activated for the first time in January, makers of disinfectants can request approval to claim a product is expected to kill a particular virus based on its ability to kill similar viruses. Once an outbreak has been identified and the identity of the virus is confirmed by the CDC, approved products are temporarily permitted to distribute information about using the product for the emerging pathogen. Sanitize  and Defend has demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 on hard, nonporous surfaces. Therefore, the Sanitize  and Defend can be used against SARS-CoV-2 when used in accordance with the directions for use.

According to the EPA, these statements are intended to “inform the public about the utility of these products against the emerging pathogen in the most expeditious manner.” The emerging pathogens program sidesteps the lengthy review process that is typically required for vetting disinfectant efficacy claims, which requires the establishment of a standardized protocol and testing with the actual virus or an EPA-approved surrogate.

Speed is of the essence, because surfaces such as doorknobs, countertops, and electronic equipment can transmit viral and bacterial diseases. It may be possible for the virus to spread on surfaces, too. Scientists know that similar respiratory viruses can settle on surfaces, where they can linger in an active state for days, protected in a cozy covering of mucus. Although scientists aren’t sure yet how long the novel coronavirus remains active on a surface, one study done in a hospital found that similar coronaviruses can persist on hard surfaces like glass, metal, or plastic for up to 9 days (Journal of Hospital Infection 2020, DOI: 10.1016/j.jhin.2020.01.022). Another study, recently published on medRxiv and not yet peer reviewed, found that SARS-CoV-2 remains stable on plastic and stainless steel for 2–3 days. (MedRxiv 2020, DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.09.20033217). The authors also published their data in a correspondence in the New England Journal of Medicine (2020, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc2004973).