A recent study shows that the coronavirus can travel on the soles of shoes — but the risk to those who are not in the medical field may be limited, experts say.
In a study published in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers tested air and surface samples at a hospital in Wuhan, China, where the coronavirus outbreak originated. The team found that about half of health-care professionals working in intensive care units carried the coronavirus on the soles of their shoes. Further, the report showed that there was a 100% positive rate from the floor of the pharmacy, where only health-care workers traveled, not infected patients.
“Therefore, the soles of medical staff shoes might function as carriers,” the researchers wrote. “We highly recommend that persons disinfect shoe soles before walking out of wards containing COVID-19 patients.”
According to public health expert and Give Space founder Carol Winner, medical personnel working with COVID-19 patients should disinfect their shoes prior to leaving the wards. Health-care professionals should remove their work shoes and keep them in a car, or if that’s not possible, place them in a separate area of their homes in a bag, she said. For those who don’t work in a medical environment, Winner says taking shoes off after entering the home is still advisable — although she notes that it’s “not likely” that non-medical workers will track in the virus on their shoes.
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“COVID or no COVID, take your shoes off at the door; 420,000 bacteria — bacteria, not viruses — live on shoes. That’s enough reason to leave them at the door,” Winner said. “As soon as you hit your living area, sanitize your hands, wash those hands, put on your slippers and you should be fine.”
Although the study published in Emerging Infectious Diseases suggests that footwear could carry the coronavirus, the World Health Organization said in an email to FN that the role of environmental contamination in the transmission of COVID-19 “is currently not clear.”
“More investigations and analysis of the epidemiological data is still required to understand the full extent of the transmission,” according to a WHO statement.
Another study, conducted in a laboratory and published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus can survive on various surfaces. The virus can remain viable for up to 72 hours on plastic and stainless steel — the former of which may be used in some shoe soles — compared to up to four hours on copper and up to 24 hours on cardboard.
Shoes made of fabrics like mesh or canvas can be cleaned in the washing machine. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service recommends washing fabrics at a high temperature (140°F) with a product containing bleach to enhance the disinfectant results. Bleach has been tested and clinically proven to kill bacteria and viruses.
While machine washing can damage shoes made of certain man-made materials, those shoes can be cleaned using soap and water or disinfectant such as Lysol. Winner recommends that people spray their shoes, rather than wiping them down, to avoid spreading bacteria onto their hands. Since washing leather or suede may alter the materials’ texture and/or appearance, Winner suggests leaving shoes made of these materials in an area separate from the living space, such as a garage.
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