Diversey Europe infection prevention experts Dr Claire Khosravi and Peter Teska examine the potential impact of new COVID-19 variants on cleaning and disinfection protocols.
The increasing media attention of the SARS-CoV-2 variants characterized in the UK, South Africa, and Brazil have raised concerns about the effectiveness of disinfectant and alcohol-based hand rubs on these variants. This document explains the issues and the expected efficacy of products recommended for environmental hygiene.
Background and virus mutation
SARS-CoV-2 is a positive-sense RNA virus that is the cause of COVID-19 disease in animals and people. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of risks associated with virus mutation and how these mutations may impact the public health non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) including the use of alcohol-based hand rub and hard surface disinfectants. While environmental transmission of the virus via hands/surfaces is considered a secondary route of transmission versus respiratory droplets, an estimated ~10% of SARS-CoV-2 infections occur via contaminated hands or environmental surfaces (Ferretti, 2020).
Mutations in the original outbreak
In January 2020 SARS-CoV-2 was identified as the pathogen causing atypical pneumonia in patients in Wuhan, China. The spread of the virus from Southeast Asia to the rest of the world occurred in a matter of weeks. Major outbreaks occurred in Europe in February and in North America in March. In the initial whole-genome sequencing work from early 2020, distinct variants were already identified. Throughout 2020 a large number of variants were identified including the variants D614G, 614D, Y453F, 19A, 19B, 20A, 20A.EU1, 20A.EU2, and 20B (Lauring, 2021).
Mutations of concern in early 2021
By early 2021, a number of variants were believed to potentially spread more easily than other variants. This includes:
- B.1.1.7 (or 501Y.V1) in the UK, which is a variant of 20B
- B.1.351 (or 20H/501Y.V2) in South Africa
- P.1 in Brazil
In each of these countries, these new variants are displacing other variants rapidly. Some have suggested they may be more transmissible. Initial studies in cell cultures show these variants as potentially being more efficient at binding with human cells, but there are limits to what we can extrapolate from cell culture experiments. It is not clear whether these variants cause more severe disease or a higher risk of death, but preliminary evidence from the UK found that B.1.1.7 did not cause more or less disease in a 28-day case fatality study (Public Health England, 2020). This remains a key question for infectious disease agencies around the world.
Are alcohol-based hand rub and hard surface disinfectants effective against new SARS-CoV-2 variants?
Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) recommend frequent hand hygiene and the use of government-approved disinfectants to help address the risk of environmental transmission of SARS-CoV-2.
Despite concerns of new virus variants for SARS-CoV-2 being more transmissible, use of currently approved surface disinfectants and recommended alcohol-based hand rubs are believed to be equally effective against these new variants and current public health practices, including hand hygiene and hard surface cleaning and disinfection, should continue to be practiced until there is evidence that changes are needed.
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- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Emerging SARS-CoV-2 variants. 2021. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/more/science-and-research/scientific-brief-emerging-variants.html
- Ferretti L, et. al. Quantifying SARS-CoV-2 transmission suggests epidemic control with digital contact tracing. Science. 2020; 368: 619.
- Lauring AS, Hodcroft EB. Genetic variants of SARS-CoV-2 – what do they mean?. JAMA. Published online January 06, 2021. doi:10.1001/jama.2020.27124.
- Public Health England. Investigation of novel SARS-COV-2 variant. Retrieved from: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/949639/Technical_Briefing_VOC202012-2_Briefing_2_FINAL.pdf.
- World Health Organization. SARS-CoV-2 variants. 2020. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/csr/don/31-december-2020-sars-cov2-variants/en/
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control
Use biocides/disinfectants safely. Always read the label and product information before use.
Contents in this article are applicable to Europe.
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