How Long Do Viruses and Bacteria Live Outside the Body?

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Different microbes (germs, bacteria, and viruses) live for different amounts of time outside of the body. Their lifespan is also dependent on their environment and what type of surface they are attached to.

Viruses aren’t actually alive, although we commonly refer to them as such. When we talk about viruses “living,” what we really mean is that they are active and infectious, and they can remain so for a period of time outside of the body.

Many people don’t know the facts about how long microbes are still infectious after leaving the body, so here are the fast facts on different types of viruses and bacteria so you can protect yourself.

Cold Virus

The common cold virus can survive on surfaces indoors for up to one week. Most cold viruses only survive on hands for a short time, between a few minutes to one hour. These viruses will live longer on non-porous surfaces such as stainless steel and plastics (keyboards are a major hotspot for cold viruses) than porous ones like cloth and paper.

Flu Virus

Unlike bacteria, viruses remain active on hard surfaces much longer than on porous surfaces. The flu virus can survive on hard, non-porous surfaces for up to 24 hours. Flu viruses can also stay active in the air for a few hours and will live longer at lower temperatures.

Stomach Bacteria

Stomach germs such as salmonella, C. difficile, e. Coli, and norovirus will survive for 1-4 hours outside of the body. 

While viruses live longer on hard surfaces, bacteria live longer on porous surfaces, so it is important to thoroughly clean every surface in order to maintain the highest level of safety. Damp, warm environments are especially hospitable to bacteria and keep it alive for a long time, so make sure you are regularly cleaning/replacing things like sponges and cloths.

Stay Safe

The best way to protect yourself is to thoroughly clean and sanitize high-touch surfaces regularly, particularly in the workplace. Remember that bacteria live longer on porous surfaces, while viruses live longer on hard surfaces, so make sure that you are cleaning all different types of surfaces. 

Want to keep your commercial facility safe and free of harmful microbes? Hire professional cleaners to thoroughly sanitize and disinfect your space regularly. Our franchisees at Anago are here to help.


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