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Explained: Does heat kill the coronavirus? Too early to say

Temperature did affect spread of SARS but not of MERS. Scientists are still waiting to know if coronavirus shows seasonality.

By: Express News Service | New Delhi |
Updated: March 5, 2020 1:16:35 pm
People wearing protective face masks walk at a crossroads as the country is hit by an outbreak of the novel coronavirus, in Shanghai, China March 4, 2020. REUTERS/Aly Song

Last month, US President Donald Trump said about the novel coronavirus: “The virus… typically that will go away in April. The heat, generally speaking, kills this kind of virus.” In fact, how the virus will behave as temperature rises – in Wuhan the outbreak happened in peak winter – is not really known. Only time will tell.

WHO chief scientist Dr Soumya Swaminathan told The Indian Express: “We do not know (if heat will kill the virus)”.

Trump’s statement about “this kind of virus” is not totally off the mark, however. Temperature did affect the spread of the SARS-CoV infection, which also spreads by droplets like COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus). In a 2011 paper in Advances in Virology, researchers from the University of Hongkong wrote: “The dried virus on smooth surfaces retained its viability for over 5 days at temperatures of 22–25°C and relative humidity of 40–50%, that is, typical air-conditioned environments. However, virus viability was rapidly lost… at higher temperatures and higher relative humidity (e.g., 38°C, and relative humidity of >95%). The better stability of SARS coronavirus at low temperature and low humidity environment may facilitate its transmission in community in subtropical area (such as Hong Kong) during the spring and in air-conditioned environments.”

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Students wear masks and stand in the corridor of their hostel in Hyderabad. (AP Photo/Mahesh Kumar A.)

On the other hand, the MERS coronavirus spread in Saudi Arabia in the month of August. New Scientist quoted David Heymann at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as saying: “These viruses can certainly spread during high temperature seasons,” he says.

Coronavirus case in Delhi-NCR: Noida school fumigated, students under surveillance Hyderabad: A medic takes a special lift meant for medics and patients of coronavirus at Gandhi Hospital in Hyderabad, Monday, March 2, 2020. Two more positive cases of the novel coronavirus — one in Delhi and another in Telangana — have been reported in the country. (PTI Photo)(PTI02-03-2020_000179B)

Scientists are now watching whether or not the novel coronavirus will be affected by temperature. National Geographic quoted Stuart Weston of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where the virus is being actively studied, as saying: “I hope it will show seasonality, but it’s hard to know.”

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