The new novel coronavirus or 2019-nCoV, has infected nearly 35,000 people across the world and has claimed over 700 lives. With no cure in sight, how does one stop the spread of the infection and neutralise them? A new study suggests that the old adage, "prevention is better than cure," is the answer.

A team of German researchers from the Greifswald University Hospital and Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB), have compiled data from all known research on coronaviruses. There they discuss the persistence of these pathogens on common surfaces such as bedside tables in hospitals and door handles, and the effective methods of neutralising them using certain disinfectants.

They suggest that the published findings can be translated to fighting the 2019-nCoV. "Different coronaviruses were analysed, and the results were all similar," said Prof. Eike Steinmann from RUB, and co-author of the study

Hands, droplets and surfaces: Sources of transmission

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There is no known cure for the rampaging virus and the efforts to develop a vaccination against it are underway. In such a case, prevention is the best measure available to combat the virus. Similar to other droplet infections such as the common cold, which is also caused by a coronavirus, the pathogens can be transmitted through hands and the surfaces they come in contact with.

"In hospitals, these can be door handles, for example, but also call buttons, bedside tables, bed frames and other objects in the direct vicinity of patients, which are often made of metal or plastic," illustrated Prof. Günter Kampf from Greifswald University Hospital, and co-author of the study.

Compiling findings from studies on coronaviruses

In an effort to facilitate the future issuance of a textbook that can simplify the inactivation of coronaviruses, Prof Kampf teamed-up three other scientists from Greifswald and RUB, including Prof Steinmann, to collate extensive findings from 22 studies that focussed on coronaviruses.

"Under the circumstances, the best approach was to publish these verified scientific facts in advance, in order to make all information available at a glance," said Steinmann.

Can survive up to nine days on surfaces

Studies that were reviewed dealt with two coronaviruses: Severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). The evaluation of these studies showed that these viruses can survive on surfaces and remain virulent for up to nine days at room temperature.

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Four to five days is the average survival rate of these pathogens the researchers found. "Low temperature and high air humidity further increase their lifespan," highlighted Kampf.

Finding a potent disinfectant

In order to learn about the effectiveness of disinfectant agents, the scientists studied various solutions. They found that disinfection solutions that are based on sodium hypochlorite, ethanol and hydrogen peroxide were the most effective against the coronaviruses. Application of these agents in suitable concentrations can reduce the number of disease-causing pathogens by four 'log steps'. Or in other words, say from one million pathogenic particles to only 100.

The scientists stressed that if formulations based on other active ingredients are utilised, they should be proven to be potent against enveloped viruses at the least. Enveloped viruses that 'envelopes' or protein layer in that stage of their life-cycle when they in between host cells. "As a rule, this is sufficient to significantly reduce the risk of infection," explained Kampf.