According to Google Trends, this week in Australia the two most popular terms about mobile phones were “how to disinfect your phone” and “how to clean your phone”.
And the third most popular question in the style of “can I get coronavirus from…?” last week in Australia was “is it possible to get coronavirus by mail?” (If you were wondering, “can you get a coronavirus from food? ” was number one and then “can you get it coronavirus twice? ”)
In short, many Australians are wondering what role phones, mail and / or package delivery may play in the risk of coronavirus transmission.
To better understand the risk and what you can do to reduce it, you should think about how your phone or mail can come in contact with the coronavirus – and what the evidence says about how long it lives on different surfaces.
What do we know about how long a coronavirus can survive over the phone or mail?
Not much yet.
There were some general media reporting about the role that surfaces play in the transmission of this coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2. It is a disease that causes COVID-19.
But a major peer-reviewed journal on the subject was published about a week ago New England Medical Journal.
That paper found:
SARS-CoV-2 was more stable on plastic and stainless steel than on copper and cardboard, and a viable virus was detected up to 72 hours after application to these surfaces.
It also noted:
Viable SARS-CoV-2 was not measured on copper after 4 hours […] Viable SARS-CoV-2 was not measured on cardboard after 24 hours.
These may be underestimations. The virus can survive on these surfaces even longer, depending on the conditions. This is because these studies looked at how long the virus would survive in the “buffer” (the solution in which viruses live in the lab). In real life they would be in the mucosa and would be more stable.
The fact that viruses seemed to persist for the longest time on plastic is a cause for concern and means that on phones the virus could potentially last for several days.
It is important to remember that this is a new virus and we do not yet have all the data. New findings emerge every day.
It’s also possible that the virus may actually persist on phones longer than shown in recent lab experiments.
Disease Control Center data published yesterday revealed a weak genetic signature of viruses (viral RNA) that survived 17 days on the surface of cruise ships. That doesn’t mean infectious The virus particles were found 17 days later – only part of the virus was found in this study – but this suggests that there may be cause for concern as to how long this coronavirus may persist on surfaces. Further research is needed on this issue.
Ideally you should clean your phones, tablets and keyboards with alcohol wipes – if you can get them.
How can viral particles end up on a phone?
Talking on the phone generates invisible splashes of air droplets. A person with COVID-19 can have a lot of virus in the lining of the back of their throat, so they probably spray the virus on their phone every time they call.
If an infected person passes their phone to someone else, the virus can spread to a new person’s fingertips and then into their body if it touches their mouth, eyes or nose. (And remember that not every infected person exhibits the classic symptoms of fever and cough, and can be contagious before the symptoms appear).
It is also possible that there is oral-fecal route for coronavirus transmission. This coronavirus is often found in feces.
This means, for example, that tiny fecal particles formed as a result of flushing the toilet can settle on the toothbrush, the phone brought to the bathroom, or on surfaces / food in the next room. Then they may end up in your mouth. It is not shown at this time, but it is certainly possible. SARS was sometimes spread along this route.
This is why frequent hand washing with soap is so important.
And what about the mail?
It is technically possible that a parcel or mail coming into your home is infected with a virus picked up somewhere along the way by people who have treated them or coughed. I think the risk of infection is very low because, according to the New England Journal of Medicine study It was found that the survival time on cardboard is believed to be about one day.
And unlike plastic surfaces, cardboard is porous. This means that the droplet will probably penetrate inside the material and it is not so easy to pick up when you touch the packaging.
What can I do to reduce the risk?
For starters, do the obvious things: wash your hands often, reduce contact with others (and if you see other people, stay at least 1.5 meters apart, especially when you talk). Absolutely do not go outside if you feel sick.
Keep your phone with you. I would be very reluctant to share my phone with anyone now, especially if it seems to be unhealthy.
It is unclear what role children play in the transmission of this coronavirus, but just in case children should wash their hands before touching their parents ’phones. However, adults are now more likely to give it to children than vice versa.
Ideally you should clean phones, tablets and keyboards with alcohol wipes (which should be about 70% alcohol). They are quite effective for inactivating viruses (if they are difficult to obtain now). Most baby wipes have only a low percentage of alcohol, so are less effective, but only wiping will help remove the virus particles.
In the worst case, you can try using a damp cloth with a little soap and water to clean the phone, but don’t let water get inside the phone and destroy it.
When it comes to delivering mail and packages, try to stay separate from the vendor. Many vendors are already abandoning the usual signature on a tablet, which means you don’t need to touch a device or electronic stylus that many others have already used. You can wipe the package before opening it, and wash your hands thoroughly after disposing of the package.
After all, the risk is never zero, and the world becomes a nightmare if you go too far along this path of caring for every surface.
Yuan ToviAssociate Professor and Chief Research Fellow in Medicine, University of Sydney
SheSociety is a site for Australian women where you can share your stories, experiences, common skills and communication opportunities.