Hands off! What can we touch during the coronavirus outbreak?
If you find yourself suspiciously staring at your pets, your potatoes and even those birthday cards on the mantelpiece, you aren't alone. Coronavirus is seemingly everywhere. What's safe to touch? Here are some answers.
Contaminated door handles
Current research says the coronavirus family of viruses can survive on some surfaces, like door handles, for an average of four to five days. Like all droplet infections, SARS-CoV-2 can spread via hands and frequently touched surfaces. Although it hasn't previously been seen in humans and therefore hasn't been studied in detail, experts believe it spreads similarly to other known coronaviruses.
Not so delicious
A certain degree of caution is called for when eating lunch at your work cafeteria or in a cafe — that is, if they haven't been closed yet. Technically, coronaviruses can contaminate cutlery or crockery if they're coughed on by an infected person. But the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) states that "no infections with SARS-CoV-2 via this transmission route are known to date."
Virus-carrying teddy bears?
Should parents fear a possible infection from imported toys? It's unlikely, say the BfR. As of yet, there are no cases of an infection via imported toys or other goods. Initial laboratory tests show that the pathogens can remain infectious for up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to three days on plastic and stainless steel - especially in high humidity and cold settings.
Packages, letters and shipped goods
A recent study from the Rocky Mountain Laboratories in the US found the novel coronavirus can survive up to 72 hours on stainless steel and up to 24 hours on cardboard surfaces — in an ideal laboratory setting. But because the survival of the virus is dependent on many factors like temperature and humidity, the BfR says getting infected from handling the post is "rather unlikely."
Can my dog infect me, or can I infect my dog?
Experts consider the risk of pets being infected with the coronavirus to be very low. But they can't yet rule it out. The animals themselves show no symptoms, so they don't become ill. However, if they are infected, it is possible they could transmit coronaviruses via the air or via excretions (their poop).
Fruit and vegetables: suddenly dangerous?
"Unlikely." According to the BfR, transmitting SARS-CoV-2 via contaminated food is not likely to happen and, so far, there are no proven cases of infection this way. As the viruses are heat-sensitive, heating food during cooking can further reduce the risk of infection. Of course, you should thoroughly wash your hands before cooking and eating — and this goes for anytime, regardless of corona!
Contaminated frozen food
Although the SARS and MERS coronaviruses known to date don't like heat, they are quite immune to the cold. Research shows they can remain infectious at minus 20 degrees Celsius for up to two years. But the BfR gives frozen food the all-clear. So far, there's no evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection via the consumption of any food, including frozen food.
But leave those wild animals alone!
The COVID-19 outbreak has prompted many extraordinary measures and China's ban of the consumption of wild animals is no exception. There is compelling research to suggest the novel coronavirus originated in bats before being passed to humans via another intermediate animal. But it's not the animals we need to blame — experts say humans are exposed to these viruses via our interaction with animals.