Coronavirus was found on surfaces in the cabins of a Japanese cruise ship 17 days after passengers disembarked, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Monday, raising the possibility that the virus can remain viable for much longer than previously believed.
Genetic material from coronavirus, technically known as SARS-CoV-2, “was identified on a variety of surfaces in cabins of both symptomatic and asymptomatic infected passengers up to 17 days after cabins were vacated on the Diamond Princess but before disinfection procedures had been conducted,” says the study.
The Diamond Princess, which left out of Yokohama, Japan, on Jan. 20, had 712 out of 3,711 passengers and crew test positive for coronavirus. Nearly half of those displayed no symptoms of illness. Thirty-seven patients experienced serious symptoms, and eight people died.
The CDC estimated that the high rate of infected passengers who displayed few symptoms could partially explain the high rate of infection on the ship.
An earlier study found that coronavirus remained viable for up to three days on surfaces like plastic and stainless steel.
“We found that viable virus could be detected in aerosols up to 3 hours post aerosolization, up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2-3 days on plastic and stainless steel,” reads a study released by researchers from the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease on March 11.
The CDC said that its findings call for more research on the viability of coronavirus on surfaces.
“Although these data cannot be used to determine whether transmission occurred from contaminated surfaces, further study of fomite transmission of SARS-CoV-2 aboard cruise ships is warranted,” the researchers said.
Experts are torn on whether coronavirus is being widely spread via surfaces. Health officials have advised people to frequently wash their hands and avoid touching their faces in order to prevent transmission from surfaces.
As of Monday, more than 43,000 Americans have tested positive for coronavirus. More than 550 have died.