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Coronavirus on wood surfaces – Is there a risk?

Article by Konrad Domig, Rupert Wimmer (translated by Eva Guzely) | 16.03.2020 - 11:49

Coronaviruses can be transmitted between humans and animals and can cause a range of illnesses from mild colds to severe pneumonia. The new disease has been named COVID-19 by the WHO.

The new coronavirus is mainly transmitted from person to person, and mostly through secretions of the respiratory tract (coughing, sneezing), but saliva (spit) as well as excretions (urine, stool) and body fluids (blood, etc.) can be infectious as well.

Course of the disease

Most patients have mild symptoms or do not show typical symptoms (cold), while in severe cases, pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and death are possible. The danger of the pathogen cannot yet be precisely assessed, but it appears to be significantly below that of MERS (30% mortality) and SARS (10% mortality) and with a mortality rate of up to 3%. Similarly to influenza (<1% mortality), older people and immunodeficient people are mostly affected by a severe course of the disease. It is still unclear to what extent the movement of goods poses a problem. In general, however, the environmental stability of coronaviruses is very low. In this context, the WHO has already gathered and published some data. Novel coronavirus applied to wood and cotton surfaces with buffer liquid can be replicated for twelve hours, while applied they can be replicated for 24 hours in a sterile array of feces. On other surfaces (plastic, stainless steel, glass, masonry), they can demonstrably be reproduced for up to 96 hours.

According to a publication of the University of Greifswald on other coronaviruses (SARS, MERS), viruses can remain infectious on surfaces for up to nine days. On average, they remain infectious for four to five days. High humidity and low temperatures prolong the infectious potential of coronaviruses.

With some caution, it can be deduced from these initial data that the duration of normal trading routes leads to the inactivation of the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2). However, it should be noted that “fresh contamination” could cause smear infections. Disinfection can effectively inactivate coronaviruses, for example a one-minute treatment of surfaces with 62 to 71% alcohol, 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% igem. In summary, it can be said that wood surfaces are relatively “virus-proof”. This is mainly due to the microstructure of wood and the presence of antimicrobial substances in the wood. In order to eliminate a residual risk, a one-week waiting period (“quarantine”) for wood products or a surface disinfection (for example with 70% alcohol) for wooden products can be recommended. In addition, compliance with the general principles of hygiene (especially hand hygiene) is strongly recommended.

Konrad Domig, professor for food quality assurance,
Rupert Wimmer, professor for natural material technology, Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences

Protective measures

The following usual protective measures for respiratory viruses are recommended:

  • Wash hands (several times a day with warm water and soap or hand disinfection with an alcohol-based disinfectant)
  • Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoid direct contact with sick people