There’s been a lot of news lately about washing your hands or using Purell or another ethanol based solution. Which got me thinking: how else can we destroy Coronavirus hanging out on some surface?
When a cell is exposed to water guess what happens? It explodes. That’s right. Remember learning about Osmosis in high school biology class? I was thinking about it lately. Water travels into a cell which is more concentrated. The cell swells and then pop! If that happens with a cell, what happens when Coronavirus is exposed to water? In the video below you can see cells exploding is slow motion after a few minutes in water.
I posed the question on Twitter earlier today, hoping for an answer. After an hour or two without an answer, I decided to look into the research further.
Coronavirus can persist for up to 9 days on surfaces such as metal, glass or plastic. When asked by reporters, Dr.Anthony Fauci said it was more likely hours than days. Either way, there are several ways to decontaminate a surface aside from ethanol including 0.5% hydrogen peroxide or 0.1% sodium hypochlorite. Research uses the term “efficient inactivation” when a substance (like ethanol) reduces the amount of a virus within 1 minute. If it takes longer than that it’s not “efficient.” In summary, you measure the amount of the virus, expose it to a substance. If enough of the virus is dead after 1 minute then the substance is “efficient.”
Why would we need an efficient substance? Well it makes sense if you are washing your hand or using a hand sanitizer that you don’t want to have to do it for too long. Most people don’t even wash their hands for 15 seconds! But what about a scenario where we are sanitizing a floor or a door handle. In that situation we might not care if it stays wet for longer than 1 minute. Would water work in such a situation?
At first glance of research titled “survival of surrogate coronaviruses in water” it seemed obvious that Coronavirus could not be killed by water. But then I realized something quoted in the article.
“Other investigators found that “SARS-CoV survived longer in PBS (14 days) than in dechlorinated tap water or domestic sewage (2 days) at 20 Celsius).” This study and others like it, tested water that was DE-CHLORINATED.
A better and more relevant question is: would chlorinated water kill coronavirus? In the USA, the most readily available water is treated with chlorine (aka chlorinated) to protect us by preventing other bacteria and pathogens from living in our drinking water. In fact, according to americanchemistry.com, about 98 percent of US water treatment systems use some type of chlorine.
It turns out that when the deadly H5N1 Avian Influenza virus was exposed to chlorinated water the virus died. It died quickly–within 1 minute. That’s right, tap water in the USA is a natural-born killer! More accurately, water it is a natural-born killer when it is chlorinated. As an efficient killer of H5N1 virus, would water also kill Coronavirus?
In the research, published in Emerging Infectious Diseases available on the CDC.gov website, the authors question why more studies have not investigated the use of chlorinated water on infectious pathogens “despite general acceptance that the outer lipid envelope” of the influenza virus has an outer “lipid envelope.” That lipid envelope which is basically a fatty outside coating makes the virus “susceptible to getting killed by chlorine” and yet no “published reports specifically address the effect.” Do you know what other virus has one of these fatty outside coatings? Coronavirus.
The fatty outside coating, the lipid envelope that encircles influenza also surrounds Coronavirus. That should also make the coronavirus susceptible to chlorinated water.
Considering its availability and potential to decontaminate surfaces from Coronavirus, the idea warrants immediate research. If Coronavirus proves to be susceptible to death from household water, it could have many prevention implications. But it is important to note that bottled water, distilled water, well water or water outside the USA that doesn’t have chlorine added wouldn’t work. There may also be other additives in tap water that could kill Coronavirus, such as the organically unstable compound known as fluoride. Sometimes the answers to common problems are sitting right in front of us. In this case, the answer may be the most readily available substance in our homes–water.