With the pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-COV-2) and concerns about its associated disease, COVID-19, many people are wondering how to clean the surfaces in their homes. To find out, we sat down (from a safe distance, of course!) with Chetan Jinadatha, MD, MPH, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Medicine and chief of infectious diseases at Central Texas Veterans Health Care System, Temple, Texas. He’s also past president of the Texas Infectious Diseases Society and has studied different ways to sanitize hospital rooms in particular.
Types of pathogens and where to find them
“There are many viruses and bacteria that harbor in our homes,” Jinadatha said. “Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is probably the most common bacteria in and around the house. During cold season, it may not be uncommon for viruses such as influenza virus, rhinovirus, enteroviruses and adenoviruses to linger around in the house. Sometimes people can shed Clostridioides difficile spores in the house because they are colonized with C. diff in their gut.”
These bacteria and viruses—as well as the novel coronavirus—can be found on common household objects, such as television remotes, cell phones, light switches, exercise equipment and hand towels. Other potential transmission hotspots include handrails, handles, doorknobs and countertops made of materials like steel, laminate or granite. “Many of these items are shared or often touched and probably never cleaned or wiped down,” Jinadatha said. Even more distressing? Many bacteria and viruses can survive on surfaces for weeks to months if they’re not cleaned properly. On the other hand, studies have shown that the newly detected virus that causes COVID-19 can survive on some surfaces for “only” about three days.
How and when to clean
Okay, so if you’re convinced that you need to be cleaning these surfaces and objects more often, what’s the best way to do so? According to Jinadatha, using common household disinfectants that are quaternary ammonium-based or bleach-based can kill many of these bacteria and viruses, which helps reduce the possibility of transmission among other members of the household. “It is good idea to disinfect these areas as many times as possible because recontamination of these surfaces can happen soon after disinfection,” he said. “Try to clean these areas at least once a day, if not more.”
For hand towels and other fabric, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends laundering using the warmest water the fabric allows and drying items completely.
What else people can do
Jinadatha stresses that during the current pandemic, it’s not enough to simply attack every surface in your home with disinfectant. “SARS-COV-2 can infect others via aerosol or droplet transmission, along with possible surface transmission,” he said. “Due to these reasons, it is very important to practice social distancing, wear an appropriate mask if available in public areas where social distancing is difficult, per CDC recommendations, and clean and disinfect surfaces that you would come in contact with often. But, most importantly, whether during COVID-19 pandemic or not, people should wash their hands as often as possible.” Using soap and running water is ideal, but alcohol-based gel hand sanitizer also works. Avoiding rubbing your eyes or touching your nose may also be helpful in preventing infection, Jinadatha said.
Find information about the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ response to the novel coronavirus disease and information specific to veterans.