Hotel-room surfaces can harbor viruses

From San Francisco, at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy

Rhinovirus, which is responsible for roughly half of all common colds, survives on surfaces in hotel rooms for hours and can be transferred from there to people, a study shows.

J. Owen Hendley, a pediatrician at the University of Virginia School of Medicine in Charlottesville, and his colleagues obtained mucus samples from 15 people who had active rhinovirus infections. The scientists then invited each participant to spend a night in a hotel room. Each person was instructed to remain awake in the room for at least 5 hours in the evening and to spend at least 2 hours there the next day.

Afterward, the researchers tested several surfaces in the rooms, such as television remote controls, doorknobs, telephones, and light switches. In all, 52 of 150 tested surfaces had detectable rhinovirus traceable to the study participant who had stayed there.

To re-create the rest of the suspected infection pathway, the researchers brought five of the volunteers back to the hotel several weeks later. Before each volunteer arrived, the researchers placed drops of that person’s stored, rhinovirus-laden mucus on light switches, telephone handsets, and the phones’ keypads in two hotel rooms. In one room, the mucus samples were placed the night before; in the other room, a half hour before each volunteer’s arrival.

The researchers asked each volunteer, with clean hands, to touch each of the “infected” objects. After each touch, a scientist tested the participant’s finger for the virus. The tests showed that the virus was again present on the fingers of these people—who were now immune to reinfection—in 10 of 30 instances in which they touched surfaces infected the night before and in 18 of 30 of the instances of freshly infected surfaces.

The findings underscore the need for hand washing, particularly around the home, where most disease is spread, Hendley says. People presumably infect themselves by touching a contaminated surface and then putting a finger to an eye or nose, he says.

The findings raise questions about commercial areas besides hotel rooms, he says. The virus remains more accessible on smooth surfaces than it does on cloth or other textured surfaces, so “I wonder about menus” in restaurants, Hendley says.

From the Nature Index

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