Can you catch Covid from Christmas presents?
ASK A RESEARCHER: Can you get infected by the coronavirus by opening a present wrapped by somebody who has Covid-19?
Imagine you’re doing the rounds, delivering Christmas presents to your friends and family. You’ve got a bit of a runny nose, but you don’t think of getting tested until the next day. Turns out it’s positive. You’ve got Covid.
What does that mean for the gifts you've just delivered? Is there a risk that you've infected your friends with something much less jolly than holiday cheer?
Should you ask your loved ones to put their presents in the freezer? Should they wait to open them until after Christmas? Or is there no need to worry?
More virus in the hospital
Sciencenorway.no has asked an expert at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, the NIPH.
They have not themselves conducted studies on how and how long the virus can survive on different surfaces.
“But there are a few studies on this out there now”, says senior advisor Mette Fagernes at the NIPH. She works at the Antibiotic Resistance and Infection Prevention department.
Studies show that the virus can be identified on surfaces after quite a few days. Many of these studies have been done in hospitals.
They show that the concentration of virus is far higher in areas with Covid-patients compared to areas of the hospital without patients.
The amount of virus and time matters
The virus can survive for days on surfaces such as paper, plastic and glass.
“But we know less about whether touching these surfaces would cause disease”, Fagernes writes in an email to sciencenorway.no.
If this were to happen, then the virus would have to come into contact with the mucous membrane in a person’s eyes, mouth or nose. These are entry points into our bodies, Fagernes explains.
This is how long the SARS-CoV-2-virus survives on different surfaces
Carpet, furniture fabrics: 8 hours
Acrylic: 24 hours
Paper: up until 2-3 days
Silicone: 3 days
Steel: 3 days
Plastic: 5 days
Glass: 5 days
Ceramic tiles: 5 days
PVC: 5 days
Teflon: 5 days
Source: Assessing the infection prevention and control measures for the prevention and management of COVID-19 in health and care settings.
Even if studies show that the virus can survive for a while on various surfaces, it is assumed that indirect disease transmission is of little importance when it comes to transmission of the virus, according to the senior advisor.
The more time that passes between when the surface was contaminated and you touch it, the smaller the risk.
Opening a Christmas present wrapped by somebody who is infected with Covid-19 probably poses a very small risk in catching the disease, Fagernes concludes.
Unlucky chain of events
A very unlucky chain of events would have to take place at the same time for the virus to infect somebody indirectly.
In order to contaminate a surface, the infected person has to touch the surface directly after having touched their nose or been in contact with secretions from their mouth, for instance if they’ve coughed into their hands.
Or perhaps by having droplets from their nose or mouth land directly on an item while talking, couching or sneezing.
The risk is highest if you touch a surface directly after it has been contaminated by somebody who is infected – and if you then straight away touch your nose, mouth or your eyes, Fagernes explains.
Wash your hands
This is why it’s important to not touch your face with unclean hands, particularly if you have touched items and surfaces in areas where a lot of people are moving around.
“Even if indirect disease transmission is of less importance than inhalation transmission when it comes to the spread of Covid, that doesn’t mean that it’s of no importance”, Fagernes adds.
Hand hygiene is still a very important infection control measure, not just against Covid-19 but also to prevent other diseases like winter vomiting disease and the flu, she stresses.
“In the health services there are patients that are very susceptible to various diseases, and thus the demands for cleanliness are very strict.”
Translated by: Ida Irene Bergstrøm
Rapid review of the literature: Assessing the infection prevention and control measures for the prevention and management of COVID-19 in health and care settings. Version 21: 9. desember. Public Health Scotland. 2021.
Read the Norwegian version of this article on forskning.no