Winter is coming in the northern hemisphere and public health officials are asking how the seasonal shift will impact the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A new study (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33272571/) tested how temperatures and humidity affect the structure of individual SARS-CoV-2 virus-like particles on surfaces. University of Utah scientists and colleagues found that just moderate temperature increases broke down the virus' structure, while humidity had very little impact. In order to remain infectious, the SARS-CoV-2 membrane needs a specific web of proteins arranged in a particular order. When that structure falls apart, it becomes less infectious. The study findings suggest that as temperatures begin to drop, particles on surfaces will remain infectious longer. This is the first study to analyze the mechanics of the virus on an individual particle level, but the findings agree with large-scale observations of other coronaviruses that appear to infect more people during the winter months. "You would expect that temperature makes a huge difference, and that's what we saw. To the point where the packaging of the virus was completely destroyed by even moderate temperature increases," said Michael Vershinin, PhD, Assistant Professor at the University of Utah and co-senior author of the paper. "What's surprising is how little heat was needed to break them down--surfaces that are warm to the touch, but not hot. The packaging of this virus is very sensitive to temperature." The paper (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33272571/) reporting these temperature results was published online on November 28, 2020, in the journal Biochemical Biophysical Research Communications.
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