COVID-19 surface transmission risk lower than perceived 2 years into pandemic

An employee cleans surfaces during the Boxing Day sales at Chadstone the Fashion Capital on December 26, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia.
An employee cleans surfaces during the Boxing Day sales at Chadstone the Fashion Capital on December 26, 2020 in Melbourne, Australia. Photo credit Naomi Rahim/Getty Images

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS RADIO) – The COVID-19 pandemic's earliest days were filled with concerns about shared surfaces, with people wiping down their deliveries, door handles, groceries and almost anything that another person could touch.

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Although the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said two years ago in May that surface transmission of the coronavirus was rare, a perception of high-touch areas causing infections remains prevalent. A number of businesses, such as airlines and movie theaters, still tout extensive disinfection measures.

That perception is largely outdated, according to Dr. Susanna Naggie, an infectious disease clinician at Duke University School of Medicine told KCBS Radio's Melissa Culross and Eric Thomas during Thursday's edition of "Ask An Expert."

"We don't worry as much with this virus (about) the virus being transmitted, as we did in the very beginning, through fomites and that sort of thing," Naggie said Thursday morning, referring to objects likely to carry infection.

Recent research has shown just how low the risk of a COVID-19 infection from a high-touch surface actually is.

A University of Michigan School of Public Health study published in April found that the risk of airborne transmission was 1,000 times higher than surface transmission. Last March, as COVID-19 vaccinations started becoming more widely available, the CDC said that touching a contaminated surface had lower than a 1-in-10,000 chance of causing infection.

In other words, wiping down surfaces won't substantially reduce your risk of infection.

More than two years into the pandemic, coronavirus reinfections are increasingly common, carrying an increased risk of long COVID-19. The risk of contracting the virus again from a surface you’ve touched while infected, however, is low.

"Once you've been infected and clear this virus, again, you're not gonna get reinfected from a toothbrush or something like that," Naggie said in response to a listener’s question. "So they don't have to worry about changing all of the linens and all of that stuff ... because you now have immunity, at least to that strain, at least for the next four to six months."

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