COVID-19: Can it spread through shoes? What precautions should you take?

Experts across the world are studying the nature of Novel Coronavirus and how the highly contagious virus can spread from one person to another. However, while most people know by now the importance of washing hands with soap, not touching the face with hands, use of sanitizers, not much has been discussed about how it can spread through footwear as people move outside to pick up their groceries and those in essential services go out to work.

Do shoes really carry the virus, does the virus remain alive on footwear and for how long, and what should be the precautions regarding use of shoes?

What studies say on COVID-19 survival on surfaces

According to a study from the National Institutes of Health, CDC, UCLA and Princeton University scientists in The New England Journal of Medicine, the virus that causes novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is stable for several hours to days in aerosols (a substance enclosed under pressure and released as spray) and on surfaces. They said that it was detectable in aerosols for up to three hours, up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.

If your footwear is made of materials on which the COVID-19 can survive, then it can travel to the house from the road.

The Centres for Diseases Control and Prevention – a leading national public health institute in the Unites States – mentions that “it may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes” (though the primary transmission is person-to-person). CDCP though mentions that it spreads mainly person-to-person – between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) and through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.

Can the virus be transmitted through footwear?

All this is significant as footwear made of plastic and rubber on which the virus can remain for a few days or it can get transferred from respiratory droplets. The virus can get transferred to footwear from crowded public places such as markets and enter the house if one is not careful enough. It may get transferred to one’s hands from the footwear. It is thus not enough to just wash one’s hands with sanitizers or soaps, but also important to be careful about maintaining some precautions over use of footwear.

According to an article in HuffPost, shoes can be a potential source of contamination especially if they are worn in heavily populated areas, according to family practitioner Georgine Nanos. “As of today, we believe coronavirus can live on surfaces up to 12 hours, potentially longer and this definitely includes shoes,” Nanos was quoted saying. Infectious disease specialist Mary E Schmidt was quoted saying that the time can be up to five days or more, which was arrived at by conducting studies on materials closely related to shoes at room temperature.

Public health specialist Carol Winner however, was quoted by HuffPost stating that there is no proof that Coronavirus comes into the house on shoes. “They are on the body part furthest from our face, and we do know that the greatest risk of transmission is person to person, not shoe to person,” Winner was quoted saying.

Precautions better than cure

However, most experts suggest that some precautionary measures are essential in the face of the pandemic. Experts suggest that it is safe to keep a separate pair of footwear for going outside and to leave them outside the house. They also suggest cleaning the footwear with alcohol-based wipes or with hot water and soap if such wipes are not available. After cleaning the footwear, one should also clean their hands and the cleaning cloth thoroughly.

Experts also suggest keeping the footwear away from children as they have a habit of putting their hands into the mouth frequently and this may prove dangerous if they do so after touching the footwear.

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