How Can Bacteria and Viruses Stay Alive Outside the Body

by Sara Alvarado

Updated March 21, 2024
Bacteria and viruses possess resilience thriving in warm damp settings. They are both known to survive in warm, moist environments. But do you know they can live a surprisingly long time almost any places you touch in your home, be it room lockers, door knobs, curtains or even toys?

The number one question that has a rent-free space in our mind is how long these microorganisms, bacteria, and viruses live when outside the body. This article will finally answer the question – from their survival to the preventive measures we must all take.
bacteria and viruses outside the body

Image Credit; CDC on Unsplash

1. Survival of Bacteria

Bacteria rely on their sensing mechanisms to adapt and survive in changing environments. Various factors influence growth, including availability, interactions with other microorganisms and the presence of specific compounds.

Bacteria are known to survive on porous surfaces like on foods and fabrics. A living room wall might not look very dirty to the human eye, but it can be full of microscopic germs that cling to the surface. Unlike viruses, they stick to the tiny little grooves in these porous materials and then, they are able to create spores for the expansion of their colonies.

Campylobacter and Salmonella two types of bacteria known for causing symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting can survive outside the body for about 1 to 4 hours. On the hand Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium for dangerous MRSA infections can endure for longer periods without requiring moisture. This has raised concerns among hospitals and food service establishments.

Recent studies have revealed that certain strep bacteria strains like S. Pneumoniae and S. Pyogenes can remain viable on surfaces like stuffed animals for than 24 hours. This discovery underscores the resilience of these bacteria. Emphasizes the importance of maintaining hygiene practices.
Not until these findings, various public places, like nursery schools, would have assumed that these harmful microorganisms would not be able to survive locked up overnight.
bacteria and viruses outside the body
Image credit; CDC on Unsplash

2. Survival of viruses

One burning question on everyones mind is, "How long can viruses survive outside the body?" It's important to note that the term "survive" might not be entirely accurate as viruses are not classified as living organisms since they cannot replicate independently. Instead they rely on entering a host cell and hijacking its machinery to multiply.

During this process, the cell's life cycle is disrupted, leading to cellular damage that at the long run, causes disease. Now, the true question here is, "How long does a virus remain infectious?"

Typically, when it comes down to choosing a human body, and a hard surface at room temperature, we bet that infectious viruses would go for the former. Let’s take a look at the smallpox virus. This virus is able to survive just on a tabletop for months to years, which, as most of us know, later led to a devastating epidemic followed by the development of the smallpox vaccine.

However, some viruses could, unlike smallpox, survive outside the body for a short time. Don’t smile yet, because it could just be the right period to infect other individuals. The Hepatitis B and C viruses can survive outside the body for from 16 hours, to a week.

It's interesting to note that cold viruses can last up to a week while flu viruses typically perish within 24 hours once outside the body. HIV is another virus with a lifespan once it leaves the body.

Some viruses like the stomach flu or Norovirus are less severe but quite common. Norovirus, known as gastroenteritis often causes diarrhea and vomiting in children. The survival time of this virus outside the body varies depending on factors like the surface it lands on and its surroundings.
bacteria and viruses outside the body

Image credit; Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

3. Preventive Measures

What's the best bet to stay bacteria-free and virus-free? Yea, Prevent infections. You can avoid a lot of infections by taking hold of these preventive measures:

  • One of the surest ways to get yourself free from certain diseases is vaccination. The more researchers dive into the causes of diseases, the creation of more disease-preventing vaccines increases likewise. Do you remember how little you were when you received your vaccine? Then, you may be thinking that vaccines are just for children to deal with. You are wrong. Adults still need vaccines like children do. This prevents some illnesses like influenza, tetanus, and even COVID-19.
  • Hand-washing. Washing of hands is one of the effective methods to safeguard yourself against germs and various infections. Always remember to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after coughing and sneezing. It's also important to always wash your hands after using the restroom. Finally you can make use of hand sanitizers with 60% alcohol content.
  • Certain medications can also provide temporary protection against specific germs. For Example, if you are traveling somewhere or living in a high risk area, taking anti-parasitic medication could help prevent malaria.

Other preventive measures include:

  • Avoiding contact with individuals.
  • Staying home when you're unwell.
  • Disinfecting  hand and touched surfaces.
  • Cover your mouth when you want to cough and sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your face.

4. Conclusion

Do not even for a moment keep your guard down in driving out harmful bacteria and viruses from your workspace and home. It’s true that not all the buildup can be wiped out completely, but it is a great idea to put up a cleaning routine to drive off these harmful microorganism and put up a fresh start.

5. References

Article by
Sara Alvarado
Greetings, I'm Sara, a dedicated nurse and a proud contributor to the AutoInfu blog. With my firsthand experience in the world of infusion pumps, I'm here to provide you with the latest insights, expert advice, and essential updates to ensure you stay informed about the infusion pump industry.

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