Virus that causes COVID-19 can live up to three days on some fabric: study

WINNIPEG — Wash all hospital laundry onsite – that is the recommendation from one researcher who found the virus that causes COVID-19 could last up to three days on some fabrics.

Using three textiles most commonly found in the health-care arena – 100 per cent cotton, polycotton, and 100 per cent polyester – microbiologist Katie Laird tested how long the virus lasts and the effects of different laundry treatments.

Her findings have been released in a new study.

Laird is an associate professor of microbiology and the head of the Infectious Disease Research Group at De Montfort University in Leicester, U.K.

To safely study what could happen to COVID-19 in the wash, Laird worked with a virologist and used another virus that had the same properties of survival on surfaces as SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“We knew it behaved in the same manner,” Laird explained.

The study found the virus lasted 72 hours on 100 per cent polyester, the longest out of the three textiles.

“We think this is because the virus wasn’t being absorbed into the textile where it would dry out and would effectively die,” Laird told CTV News.

The virus lasted 24 hours on 100 per cent cotton, and six hours on polycotton.

Further investigation is needed on polycotton she said because she suspects some chemicals may have been left over from the finishing process in the type of polycotton tested.

Laird also tested different wash systems including domestic, onsite and industrial.

The study found with agitation, detergent and higher temperature water – all performed the same. She said that means the issue is not the washing.

“We know that the washing machine, like washing your hands, removed the virus,” she said. “It’s that period of time from contamination of the textile to it being put into the machine where we think that more infection prevention control procedures need to be in place.”

It’s why she would say all hospital textiles should be washed on site.

“Whether that’s a care home that has the laundries there, or a hospital, or washed industrially,” she said. “And not taken home with the nurses.”

The Manitoba Nurses Union (MNU) said the new information is certainly a concern because it shows of yet another source of inadvertent exposure.

“MNU will be raising concerns through the workplace safety and health processes to ensure nurses, other frontline health-care workers, and their loved ones are not exposed to risks that could be otherwise mitigated,” said MNU President Darlene Jackson in a written statement.

“We strongly encourage health-care employers to expeditiously implement all necessary infection control protocols to ensure this hazard is properly addressed.”

A Shared Health spokesperson told CTV News there have been no uniform policy changes due to COVID-19.

“As part of our existing policies, any physicians or staff required to wear facility-issued scrubs in designated areas should not wear them when entering or leaving the facility. These uniforms are kept at the facility and washed onsite,” reads a written statement.

“For all other staff who wear personal work uniforms, they are encouraged to follow best practices by changing into their uniform at work and wearing personal clothes when they leave the facility to go home. Personal uniforms are to be washed following normal practice – using laundry detergent and the warmest water temperature recommended on the clothing label.”

Doctors Manitoba has published tips on how its members can reduce the chances of taking the virus home.

Laird understands that in many countries, staff working in high-risk settings are being given uniforms and PPE to wear, and that does offer some layer of protection.

“It’s the asymptomatic patients, those before they realize that the infection is there, that there could be a risk,” she said. “And it is a low risk, but if we can control it, we really should be trying.” 

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