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Explained: Does heat kill coronavirus? Too early to say

The Indian Express logo The Indian Express 04-03-2020

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.”

Representational image of a virus © milindri/Getty images Representational image of a 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)”.

Also watch: How to prepare for a coronavirus emergency (Video by USA Today)

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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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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.

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.”

Follow the government's latest travel advice if you are planning a trip outside India or travelling back to India from affected areas. You can also read World Health Organization's advice on basic protective measures against the virus. The Ministry of Health's special helpline is available at +91-11-23978046 and ncov2019@gmail.com.

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