Research Article: The Effects of Temperature and Relative Humidity on the Viability of the SARS Coronavirus

Date Published: October 1, 2011

Publisher: Hindawi Publishing Corporation

Author(s): K. H. Chan, J. S. Malik Peiris, S. Y. Lam, L. L. M. Poon, K. Y. Yuen, W. H. Seto.


The main route of transmission of SARS CoV infection is presumed to be respiratory droplets. However the virus is also detectable in other body fluids and excreta. The stability of the virus at different temperatures and relative humidity on smooth surfaces were studied. 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 (>3 log10) 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. It may also explain why some Asian countries in tropical area (such as Malaysia, Indonesia or Thailand) with high temperature and high relative humidity environment did not have major community outbreaks of SARS.

Partial Text

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), was a new emerging disease associated with severe pneumonia and spread to involve over 30 countries in 5 continents in 2003. A novel coronavirus was identified as its cause [1–3]. SARS had a dramatic impact on health care services and economies of affected countries, and the overall mortality rate was estimated to be 9%, but rising to 50% in those aged 60 or above [4]. A notable feature of this disease was its predilection for transmission in the health care setting and to close family and social contacts. The disease is presumed to be spread by droplets, close direct or indirect contact, but the relative importance of these routes of transmission is presently unclear. A study showed that viral aerosol generation by a patient with SARS was possible and therefore airborne droplet transmission was a possible means of transmission [5]. However, the role of fomites and environmental contamination in transmission of infection is presently still unclear. An outbreak of disease affecting over 300 residents in high-rise apartment block (Amoy Gardens) in Hong Kong could not be explained by respiratory droplet transmission from infected patients [6]. Infectious virus is detectable in the faeces [7], and aerosolization of virus in contaminated faeces is believed to be the mode of transmission of this outbreak [8].

Ten microlitre of 107 TCID50 per mL of virus was placed in individual wells of a 24-well plastic plate (representing a nonporous surface) and dried. The dried virus was then incubated at different temperatures (38°C, 33°C, 28°C) at different relative humidity (>95%, 80~89%) for 3 hr, 7 hr, 11 hr, 13 hr, and 24 hr and the residual viral infectivity was titrated. A similar experiment was conducted at room temperature and relative humidity of about 40–50% (air-conditioned room) for up to 4 weeks. Virus dried on plastic retained viability for up to 5 days at 22~25°C at relative humidity of 40~50% with only 1 log⁡10 loss of titre (Figure 1). After that virus infectivity is gradually lost ever time. Loss of virus infectivity in solution was generally similar to dried virus under these environmental conditions. This indicates that SARS CoV is a stable virus that may potentially be transmitted by indirect contact or fomites, especially in air-conditioned environments.  

Viruses do not replicate outside living cell but infectious virus may persist on contaminated environmental surfaces and the duration of persistence of viable virus is affected markedly by temperature and humidity. Contaminated surfaces are known to be significant vectors in the transmission of infections in the hospital setting as well as the community. The role of fomites in the transmission of RSV has been clearly demonstrated [20]. Survival of viruses on a variety of fomites has been studied for influenza viruses, paramyxoviruses, poxviruses, and retroviruses [21]. The human coronavirus associated with the common cold was reported to remain viable only for 3 hours on environmental surfaces after drying, although it remains viable for many days in liquid suspension [13]. Parainfluenza and RSV viruses were viable after drying on surfaces for 2 and 6 hours, respectively [20, 22]. In aerosolised form, human coronavirus 229E is generally less stable in high humidity [12]. The environmental stability of SCoV was previously unknown and this information is clearly important for understanding the mechanisms of transmission of this virus in a hospital and community setting.