The Omicron COVID-19 variant can survive longer than previous virus strains on plastic surfaces and human skin, new research from Japanese researchers has found.
The study, conducted by a team from Kyoto Prefectural University of Medicine that has not yet been peer reviewed, found that the variants survived much longer than the original strain after a series of laboratory tests.
They concluded that Omicron’s high “environmental stability” – its ability to remain contagious – in particular could have helped it replace Delta as the dominant variant and spread faster.
“Our study showed that on plastic and skin surfaces, alpha, beta, delta and omicron variants exhibited more than twice as long survival times than the Wuhan strain and maintained infectivity for more than 16 hours on the skin surfaces,” he says. wrote the study’s authors.
On plastic surfaces, the mean survival time of the original strain and the alpha, beta, gamma and delta variants were 56 hours, 191.3 hours, 156.6 hours, 59.3 hours and 114 hours, respectively.
That compared to 193.5 hours – equivalent to eight days – for Omicron, the researchers reported on bioRxiv prior to peer review.
Omicron lasts for over 21 hours on the skin
On carcass skin samples, the mean virus survival time was 8.6 hours for the original version, 19.6 hours for Alpha, 19.1 hours for Beta, 11 hours for Gamma, 16.8 hours for Delta, and 21.1 hours for Omicron.
“This study showed that the Omicron variant also has the highest environmental stability among VOCs [variants of concern], suggesting that this high stability may also be one of the factors that has enabled the Omicron variant to replace the Delta variant and spread rapidly, ”the authors wrote.
Omicron continues to be a major concern around the world, and is now present in all EU countries and has become the dominant variant in most member states, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).
The countries where the highest percentage of new cases were attributed to Omicron through sequencing were Finland (99.9 percent), Belgium (99.7 percent), Malta (99.3 percent) and Denmark (98.8 percent).
Although the variants were generally more resistant to ethanol than the original strain of COVID-19, they were all completely inactivated on the skin after 15 seconds of exposure to alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
“Therefore,” the researchers concluded, “it is strongly recommended that current infection control (hand hygiene) practices use disinfectants … as suggested by the World Health Organization. [WHO]”.
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