Coronavirus: Virologist considers surface infection to be unlikely

Coronavirus: Virologist considers surface infection to be unlikely

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What is the risk of being infected with SARS-CoV-2 from surfaces?

There is currently a lot of confusion about the risk of being infected with contaminated surfaces with the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Some studies have already demonstrated under laboratory conditions that the virus is able to survive on certain surfaces - but how does this work under real conditions? Based on his research, the virologist Professor Hendrik Streeck sees no risk of infection via surfaces.

In addition to Professor Dr. Christian Drosten is probably Professor Hendrik Streeck currently the best known virologist in Germany. The young top researcher succeeded Drosten as director of the Institute of Virology at the University Clinic in Bonn. He and his team do things a little differently. While many virologists mainly work in the laboratory, the team around Streeck collects data from the direct environment in the high-risk area Heinsberg - and comes up with astonishing results.

Has the risk of surface infection been overestimated?

It has now been clearly demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 can spread via droplet infection. Aerosols released when coughing, sneezing, and speaking may contain infectious germs through which the virus can jump from one person to another. In recent weeks, contaminated surfaces such as door handles have been warned. Little is currently known about the actual risk of being infected via a surface.

Researchers around Streeck go to the epicenter

This is where researchers led by Professor Streeck come in to investigate how the virus behaves under normal conditions - where it is most abundant in Germany: in Gangelt in the Heinsberg district. The 40-member science team interviews patients directly on site. In addition, data and samples are collected on site.

Create a new basis for sensible measures

"In the Heinsberg district, there were a large number of people who were infected with the Corona virus earlier than anywhere else in Germany," Prime Minister Armin Laschet explained in a press release on the project. From here, important insights for all of Germany could be derived. The district of Heinsberg could serve as a research example and model region in order to find out which measures make sense in order to optimally protect the citizens. At the same time, it can also be used to determine which of the measures taken are actually useful from a virological and epidemiological point of view, says Laschet.

The research project started on Monday, March 30, 2020 and is scheduled to last for four weeks. The study is financed by the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia. The project caused a sensation, above all, when Professor Streeck appeared on Markus Lanz's talk show on March 31, 2020. Here the virologist gave his assessment of various infection risks.

Streeck: "We didn't get a live virus from any surface."

Among other things, Streeck reports on preliminary examinations that took place in Heinsberg. Here smears were taken in the houses of infected people. Many common surfaces were taken into account, including doorknobs, cell phones, toilets and sinks. The smears were then examined in the laboratory. The virus was detected, but it was only dead RNA. "We were in a household where a lot of highly infectious people lived, and yet we didn't get a live virus from any surface," says Streeck. These and other findings will now be deepened in the research work.

Professor Drosten comes to a similar assessment

Steeck's colleague Professor Dr. In an NDR podcast, Christian Drosten said that corona viruses are extremely sensitive to drying out. He also comes to the conclusion that the transmission over surfaces only plays a small role, if at all. However, there is still no official all-clear signal from the University Clinic Bonn. The results of the Heinsberg study will show more details in the coming weeks. (vb)

Read also: Coronavirus transmission: Study on German patients provides comprehensive insights.

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • University Hospital Bonn: NRW starts a joint corona research project with the Institute for Virology at the University Hospital Bonn (published: March 27th, 2020),

Video: Your Covid-19 questions answered by a virology expert (May 2022).