All the papers I've read about survival of viruses outside of the host refer to longer survival times on hard surfaces without explaination. As a layman I would have thought that a virus (who's main environmental dangers are things like UV would survive better on rough or porous surfaces, where they are protected and can hide from the light and weather, not the other way round.

For example, one paper I read recently (although it's an old paper) showed Ebola virus surviving for 50 days on glass but not even 2 on rough materials. Can anyone enlighten me as to what it is about glass that makes such an ideal home for viruses to extend it's lifespan by over 25 times?

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    $\begingroup$ Can you link some of the papers? That might be helpful. $\endgroup$ – Chris Apr 10 '16 at 9:41
  • $\begingroup$ Sure - the paper I mention is - Piercy, T.J., Smither, S.J., Steward, J.A., Eastaugh, L. and Lever, M.S. (2010), The survival of filoviruses in liquids, on solid substrates and in a dynamic aerosol. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 109: 1531–1539. at link $\endgroup$ – Isaacson Apr 10 '16 at 11:43
  • $\begingroup$ Is it about roughness or material? Does it change between a flat glass and a rough glass surface? Because I think that the fact that glass is, in general, much less reactive than metal surfaces, for example, could explain why viruses survive better on it. $\endgroup$ – alec_djinn Apr 11 '16 at 14:54

The paper you cited is not about survival on smooth versus rough surfaces; it does, however, mention discrepancies in survival on metallic versus non-metallic surfaces.

From the article you cite (Piercy et al., 2010):

The lack of recovery of virus from metal substrates may be attributed to several factors; previous work (Sommer et al. 1999; Pawar et al. 2005) has shown the binding of micro-organisms to metal surfaces to be poor because of the high surface energy, high electronegative and hydrophilic properties of metal. Other research has also shown that positively charged metallic ions such as copper and silver have a high bactericidal activity (Friedman and Dugan 1968; Bitton and Freihofer 1977; Slawson et al. 1990) and hence by extrapolation may also have a high virucidal activity.

In short, it isn't exactly clear why viruses in particular might have poor survival on metal, but the electrical and chemical properties of metallic surfaces, as well as biological activity of metallic ions that are constantly leached from alloys like steel are all candidates.

The claim may also not apply to all viruses, and the results are not consistent across labs. For example, Sagripanti et al. 2010 find no effect of surface material (aluminum alloy, rubber, or glass) on Ebola, Venezuelan equine encephalitis, Lassa, and Sindbis viruses.


Piercy, T. J., Smither, S. J., Steward, J. A., Eastaugh, L., & Lever, M. S. (2010). The survival of filoviruses in liquids, on solid substrates and in a dynamic aerosol. Journal of applied microbiology, 109(5), 1531-1539.

Sagripanti, J. L., Rom, A. M., & Holland, L. E. (2010). Persistence in darkness of virulent alphaviruses, Ebola virus, and Lassa virus deposited on solid surfaces. Archives of virology, 155(12), 2035-2039.

Bitton, G., & Freihofer, V. (1977). Influence of extracellular polysaccharides on the toxicity of copper and cadmium toward Klebsiella aerogenes. Microbial ecology, 4(2), 119-125.

Friedman, B. A., & Dugan, P. R. (1968). Concentration and accumulation of metallic ions by the bacterium Zoogloea. Dev. Ind. Microbiol, 9, 381-388.

Pawar, D. M., Rossman, M. L., & Chen, J. (2005). Role of curli fimbriae in mediating the cells of enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli to attach to abiotic surfaces. Journal of applied microbiology, 99(2), 418-425.

Slawson, R. M., Lee, H., & Trevors, J. T. (1990). Bacterial interactions with silver. BioMetals, 3(3), 151-154.

Sommer, P., Martin-Rouas, C., & Mettler, E. (1999). Influence of the adherent population level on biofilm population, structure and resistance to chlorination. Food microbiology, 16(5), 503-515.

  • $\begingroup$ Maybe I should have been clearer in the title question, my mistake. I read and understood the effect of metals, my main question is in the final paragraph, why glass, so much smoother than all the other materials which are rougher. $\endgroup$ – Isaacson Jun 16 '17 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ @Isaacson Do you have a paper that shows that glass specifically is best, or that says it is better because it is smooth? Most likely it is because it is quite inert, unlike metals. If you are comparing glass and metal, though, it doesn't really matter which you focus on. You could say "survival on metal is shorter because it does X, Y, Z" or you could say "survival on glass is longer because it doesn't do X, Y, Z": the answers are the same because it's a matter of comparison. Or am I still misunderstanding your original intent? $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Jun 16 '17 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ (also note the point I made at the end of my answer, which was a reference to a paper that showed for several viruses no difference between glass, rubber, and metal) $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Jun 16 '17 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ Yes,thanks. I don't have the papers to hand at the moment I will have to look them up again (this question is quite old) but it's mainly that all the papers I read on the subject seemed to cite a few days survival and then suddenly there was this one 50 day survival time on glass. I presumed it was the glass because I had read elsewhere that viruses like norovirius survive longer on hard surfaces too, but maybe it was nothing to do with the glass. $\endgroup$ – Isaacson Jun 16 '17 at 20:04
  • $\begingroup$ Ah okay - I didn't initially notice the age of the question because it just got bumped - I did see April but forgot we are in 2017 (this is really easy to do as an academic in the US, I might add). The paper you linked did show the longest hard-surface survival on glass, but that was just one sample with just one of the viruses, and they didn't try to conclude statistically that it actually survived longer than the plastic, just that it was clear that both those surfaces were much better than metal. If you find something else I'm happy to amend the answer as best I can! $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Jun 16 '17 at 20:15

Just a guess.

Intuitively it could have something to do with microstructures on the rough and porous surfaces. They could be studded with microscale or nanoscale spikes and other hazards (which perhaps makes them rough). While those aren't a danger to eye-visible life forms, those types of structures can pose a real hazard to viruses, bacteria, and other microbes. A virus particle could land on a spike which tears a hole in its capsid, allowing the contents to slowly drip out. At the atomic and molecular scale, some surfaces and materials could have ions, electric charges, covalent properties, and similar interactions that distort membranes, capsids, and other structures enough to permanently damage them or compromise their shelf life.

  • $\begingroup$ We like cited answers here, for all but the most basic concepts in biology (where often even something like Wikipedia is sufficient, or no citation at all), rather than guesses and intuition, because these can easily be wrong or misinformed. $\endgroup$ – Bryan Krause Jun 16 '17 at 18:26

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