Copper May Be Key to Controlling Spread of Dreaded Norovirus
Although it was first identified decades ago, norovirus remains exceedingly difficult to control. Perhaps better known as the “cruise-ship virus,” norovirus is able to live on surfaces for a long time, and it resists inactivation by ordinary cleaning supplies and methods. Once infected, victims experience horrific symptoms that may include diarrhea, projectile vomiting, abdominal pain, headaches, low-grade fever and other unpleasant symptoms. In the undeveloped world, it’s blamed for about 200,000 deaths each year.
But most of us have heard of this highly infectious virus because of its habit of spreading like wildfire in closed environments, such as cruise ships. It can be eliminated with chlorine-based disinfectants, but decontaminating every conceivable surface—doorknobs, railings, tabletops, fixtures, etc.—can be difficult and time-consuming, and bleach can damage many finishes. Prior infection with this gut-busting bug is no guarantee of protection against future infections, either. Research indicates that acquired immunity to norovirus only lasts about six months. Already costing the U.S. about a half-billion dollars to control each year, it’s believed that the incidence of infection with this virus is increasing.
Most viruses have a hard time surviving on exposed surfaces. Not so norovirus. It’s capable of lying in wait for its next human victim on a variety of surfaces, across a wide range of temperatures and humidity levels, for up to a week or more. Even cleaning cloths used in an attempt to sterilize surfaces can contribute to the spread of the virus. Now British researchers have shown that norovirus’ Achilles’ heel is copper. Surfaces made of at least 60% copper quickly inactivate the virus, which raises new possibilities for the prevention of the spread of this awful disease.
Sarah L. Warnes, C. William Keevil. Inactivation of Norovirus on Dry Copper Alloy Surfaces. PLoS ONE, 2013; 8 (9): e75017 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075017