Disinfecting surfaces to prevent Covid often all for show, CDC advises

The risk of surface transmission of Covid-19 is low, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. Far more important is airborne transmission -- and people who obsessively disinfect surfaces may be doing more harm than good..

Posted: Apr 20, 2021 11:47 AM
Updated: Apr 22, 2021 9:34 AM


The risk of surface transmission of Covid-19 is low, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. Far more important is airborne transmission -- and people who obsessively disinfect surfaces may be doing more harm than good.

'CDC determined that the risk of surface transmission is low, and secondary to the primary routes of virus transmission through direct contact droplets and aerosols,' Vincent Hill, Chief of the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch, said on a CDC-sponsored telephone briefing.

Hill said the risk of transmission from touching a surface, while small, is elevated indoors. Outdoors, the sun and other factors can destroy viruses, Hill said.

The virus dies 'rapidly' on porous surfaces but can persist longer on hard, indoor surfaces.

Research also suggested that surface transmission was more likely in the first 24 hours after a person is infected, and that households where one person had Covid-19 did have lower transmission rates when the household cleaned and disinfected surfaces.

So while keeping surfaces clean is not a waste of time, it's not the only way or even the most important way to reduce risks, the CDC said. It's updated its guidance for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in community settings in light of this transmission risk.

'In most situations, cleaning surfaces using soap or detergent, and not disinfecting, is enough to reduce the already low risk of virus transmission through surfaces,' Hill said. 'Disinfecting surfaces is typically not necessary, unless a sick person or someone positive for Covid-19 has been in the home within the last 24 hours.'

Hill said cleaning should be focused on high-contact areas such as doorknobs and light switches.

Household cleaners pose a danger

People may be using household cleaning products in order to protect themselves from Covid-19, but misuse can have dangerous consequences, Hill added.

Frequent cleaning and disinfecting of surfaces may have minimal impact on viral transmission and contribute to 'hygiene theater,' he added.

'Putting on a show' to clean and disinfect 'may be used to give people a sense of security that they are being protected from the virus, but this may be a false sense of security, if other prevention measures like wearing masks, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are not being consistently performed,' Hill said.

'It also could make people feel less need to engage in these other important prevention measures.'

Additional data shows that the disinfectants themselves may pose a risk.

'Public inquiries indicate that some people may purposely drink, inhale, or spray their skin with disinfectants, without understanding that use of disinfectants in this way can cause serious harm to their bodies,' he said.

Hill cited CDC research from June of 2020 showing that, of those people surveyed, 'only 58% knew that bleach should not be mixed with ammonia, because mixing bleach and ammonia creates a toxic gas that harms people's lungs.'

And bleach itself can be harmful.

'Nineteen percent wash food products with bleach, which could lead to their consumption of bleach that isn't washed off, which can damage the body because bleach is toxic. Eighteen percent used household cleaner on bare skin, which can damage the skin and cause rashes and burns,' Hill said.

Hill added that surveillance data show the volume of calls to poison centers in 2020 for disinfectants was higher than in either 2018 or 2019.

Alternative disinfection methods can also be a waste of time or even risky, the CDC says in the updated guidance.

'The effectiveness of alternative surface disinfection methods, such as ultrasonic waves, high intensity UV radiation, and LED blue light against the virus that causes COVID-19 has not been fully established,' the CDC says on its updated website.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 733591

Reported Deaths: 13466
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1003871748
Lake54020975
Allen40829679
St. Joseph35898552
Hamilton35735408
Elkhart28745442
Tippecanoe22432219
Vanderburgh22342397
Porter18871310
Johnson18028381
Hendricks17283315
Clark13015191
Madison12725339
Vigo12482248
LaPorte12011214
Monroe11928170
Delaware10726187
Howard9959218
Kosciusko9451117
Hancock8325142
Bartholomew8085156
Warrick7792155
Floyd7677178
Grant7080174
Wayne7064199
Boone6722101
Morgan6596139
Dubois6162117
Marshall6083112
Cass5839105
Dearborn582178
Henry5767104
Noble563684
Jackson502773
Shelby493696
Lawrence4571120
Harrison436372
Gibson436292
DeKalb429685
Clinton428153
Montgomery425389
Whitley397439
Huntington393380
Steuben390057
Miami382668
Knox372690
Jasper370148
Putnam362360
Wabash354980
Adams341955
Ripley340270
Jefferson331581
White315654
Daviess298299
Wells291981
Decatur285692
Fayette281662
Greene280085
Posey271933
LaGrange268370
Scott267254
Clay260647
Washington241832
Randolph241481
Spencer232631
Jennings230649
Starke217854
Fountain213246
Sullivan212142
Owen202156
Jay196730
Fulton195640
Carroll189620
Orange184154
Perry184037
Rush173725
Vermillion169743
Franklin168435
Tipton163045
Parke146616
Blackford135132
Pike135134
Pulaski117145
Newton108334
Brown102641
Crawford101315
Benton99014
Martin89515
Warren82415
Switzerland7938
Union71110
Ohio57111
Unassigned0417

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1089357

Reported Deaths: 19528
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1265611406
Cuyahoga1129542134
Hamilton803281211
Montgomery517261015
Summit47483955
Lucas42491792
Butler38487585
Stark32544909
Lorain25135486
Warren24359300
Mahoning21735588
Lake20791371
Clermont19844240
Delaware18582133
Licking16470212
Fairfield16284200
Trumbull16141468
Medina15341266
Greene15128244
Clark14062299
Wood13153189
Portage12930206
Allen11713232
Richland11414199
Miami10706220
Wayne8900214
Columbiana8859229
Muskingum8824133
Pickaway8589121
Marion8553136
Tuscarawas8500245
Erie7937155
Hancock6935128
Ashtabula6871172
Ross6871156
Geauga6724148
Scioto6431102
Belmont5960168
Union572948
Lawrence5583102
Jefferson5566151
Huron5453120
Darke5372126
Sandusky5369122
Seneca5305122
Washington5213109
Athens520458
Auglaize494586
Mercer481185
Shelby470193
Knox4506110
Madison438263
Putnam4297101
Fulton425969
Ashland425190
Defiance423997
Crawford3989107
Brown396657
Logan383076
Preble381098
Clinton373863
Ottawa368181
Highland356262
Williams342575
Champaign334658
Guernsey317353
Jackson313752
Perry295750
Morrow286839
Fayette282950
Hardin271564
Henry270266
Coshocton265657
Holmes2621101
Van Wert243963
Adams239553
Pike238034
Gallia236449
Wyandot232055
Hocking216062
Carroll192148
Paulding173940
Meigs145240
Noble133737
Monroe132542
Harrison109237
Morgan108523
Vinton84215
Unassigned02
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