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Exaggerated. There’s no evidence it is, but gas pumps could serve as a major vector for transmission.
There are ongoing concerns on social media that the coronavirus is “spreading quickly from gas pumps.”
Messages take the form of:
“I just spoke with a friend who got called into an emergency meeting at his hospital. He said the virus is spreading quickly from gas pumps. He said to wear gloves or have a paper towel touch the pump and throw the napkin or gloves out before you get back in the car. Please tell everyone you know. Shopping carts as well, wipe them down.”
This message is most likely false. There are no specifics about which hospital this “friend” spoke at, so even if it was true for his area, it doesn’t necessarily mean its true for every area.
According to the CDC, surface to surface transmission of the coronavirus is not thought to be the main way the virus is currently spreading. In fact, the CDC isn’t even certain the coronavirus can be spread through such a vector.
“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, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
Furthermore, Dr. David Belk, an internist, and researcher at True Cost of Healthcare commented that this particular coronavirus isn’t especially more likely to be transmitted via gas pumps.
“I don’t think that there is any evidence that different coronaviruses can be transmitted in different ways. The difference in infectivity of different viruses within the same family (e.g. different coronaviruses) has more to do with whether a certain virus is able to target certain receptors in your cells than how you pick it up.”
“In other words, if someone who is infected with a coronavirus sneezes on you, and that particular virus is compatible with the target cells in your body, it’s likely to infect you. If not, it won’t. This is probably why some coronaviruses (e.g. COVID-19) are more infectious to humans than others like MERS were.”
Even if a gas pump is contaminated, wearing gloves, as advised, and/or washing your hands for at least 20 seconds after exposure should prevent infection, as long as you do not touch your face before washing your hands.
With that being said, it’s important to be aware that gas pumps could potentially spread the coronavirus, though it shouldn’t be a cause for panic.
A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the new coronavirus could survive on plastics and stainless steel for 24-48 hours. Furthermore, gas pumps have been found to house a large variety of germs due to the large number of people that handle them a day.
According to Dr. Belk, “Doorknobs and countertops would be at least as infectious [compared to gas pumps], if not more so, in such a situation. People open doors multiple times each day whereas most people only fill their gas tanks every few days or so.”
To stay safe just in case, he advises, “frequently cleaning all potentially contaminated surfaces, including doorknobs, phones, countertops, etc… with disinfectant cleansers might help as well… washing your hands (or using a hand sanitizer) after touching any potentially contaminated surface (including a gas pump).”
Our advice? Be cautious, but don’t panic. Gas pumps could potentially give you the coronavirus, so do practice precautions like using gloves, not touching your face, and washing your hands with soap. However, to say the virus is spreading especially quickly from gas pumps compared to other vectors currently is most likely exaggerated.
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