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Fears about catching the coronavirus from contaminated surfaces have prompted many to spend the past few months wiping down groceries, leaving packages unopened and stressing about touching elevator buttons.

But what's the real risk of catching covid-19 from a germy surface or object?

The question has been on people's minds lately, and there was some confusion after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made some edits to its website last week. Social media sites and some news outlets suggested the agency had downgraded its warnings and that surface transmission was no longer a worry.

The CDC subsequently issued a news release to clarify that indirect contact from a contaminated surface -- what scientists call fomite transmission -- remains a potential risk for catching covid-19.

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"Based on data from lab studies on COVID-19 and what we know about similar respiratory diseases, it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes," the agency wrote. "But this isn't thought to be the main way the virus spreads."

So does this mean the virus can be caught from touching a doorknob? Catching a Frisbee? Sharing a casserole dish?

The answer, in theory, is yes, which is why experts stress washing hands often and avoiding face touching. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals.

"What they're saying is that high touch surfaces like railings and doorknobs, elevator buttons are not the primary driver of the infection in the United States," said Erin Bromage, a comparative immunologist and biology professor at the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. "But it's still a bad idea to touch your face. If someone who is infectious coughs on their hand and shakes your hand and you rub your eyes -- yes, you're infected. Someone's drinking from a glass, and you pick it up near the rim and later rub your eyes or mouth, you're infected."

The bottom line is that the best protection from coronavirus -- whether it's surface transmission or close human contact -- is still social distancing, washing hands, not touching our faces and wearing masks.

"Hand washing is important not only for fomite transmission, but also for person-to-person transmission," said Dr. Daniel Winetsky, a postdoctoral fellow in the division of infectious diseases at Columbia University. "The respiratory droplets we produce when speaking, coughing and sneezing fall mostly onto our hands, and can fall onto other people's hands if they are within 6 feet from us."

A Section on 05/30/2020

Print Headline: CDC shares surface-safety advice for virus


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