With the ongoing spread of the coronavirus, and as stories of hording Purell and antimicrobial wipes abound, this practitioner* has been inundated recently by questions — from clients, co-workers, family, and friends — about what products they can use to disinfect their homes and offices to protect against the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of unproven remedies being touted on websites and in mass emails, not to mention the rumor mill. (*Remember, I’m a lawyer practicing in the antimicrobial regulatory field, not a medical doctor!)
The good news: According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), coronaviruses are among the class of viruses that are the most easy for many disinfectant products to kill. EPA’s “emerging pathogens” policy (more details of which can be found here in my prior blog post) establishes a three-tiered hierarchy of viruses according to how resistant they are to being killed (or “inactivated”) by typical disinfectant products. “Enveloped viruses,” such as the coronavirus, are in the third tier, meaning that they “are the least resistant to inactivation by disinfection.”
The structure of these viruses includes a lipid envelope, which is easily compromised by most disinfectants. Once the lipid envelope is damaged, the integrity of the virus is compromised, thereby neutralizing its infectivity.
EPA is now implementing its “emerging pathogen” policy and has issued a list of disinfectants that the agency believes to be effective against SARS-CoV-2 (the formal name of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19). The EPA list is available here. (Note that List N only includes surface disinfectant products, such as sprays and aerosols. Many other effective disinfection products, including hand sanitizers and body wipes, are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and do not appear on EPA’s list.)
Typically, to be registered for use against a specific bacteria or virus, disinfecting/antimicrobial products must submit to EPA test data showing that the product is effective against that particular microbe. EPA’s “emerging pathogens” policy was established to allow for the legal use of disinfectants against a novel virus for which no product would as yet have EPA approval and for which test data and methods may not exist. The policy recognizes that a disinfectant that is effective against viruses in the same family as the novel virus, or which are effective against “harder to kill” viruses under the three-tier hierarchy noted above, should be effective against the new pathogen.
So, as a consumer, how does one know if a particular disinfectant for sale at the store (or, perhaps more likely in these quarantine days, for sale on-line) is likely to be effective against SARS-CoV-2? Here are a few things to look for:
(1) Any legal disinfectant product must have an EPA registration number on the product label. Look for “EPA Reg. No.” (followed by a series of numbers) in the fine print on the product label, usually near where other manufacturer or distributor information is provided. (Of course, not all registered disinfectants will be effective against the novel coronavirus, but to be legal it must at least have an EPA registration.)
(2) Check to see if that EPA Reg. No. is on the EPA list noted above. However, as EPA is still working through submissions to include specific products on that list, there are others out there that may be effective, but just have not finished the expedited approval process for making coronavirus claims.
(3) Look for “coronavirus” in the list of microbes against which the product has been tested to be effective, as specified on the product label. While no product labels as yet will state effectiveness against the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus, they may have been tested for effectiveness against other coronaviruses (such as SARS and MERS).
(4) While on-product labels are not allowed to carry “emerging pathogen” claims, EPA’s policy allows registrants who meet certain criteria to provide information about effectiveness against an emerging pathogen on a product website, in social media, and in communications with health care professionals. If the policy criteria are met, these products can include on such platforms a statement similar to the following:
Product X has demonstrated effectiveness against viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2/the novel coronavirus on hard surfaces. Therefore, Product X can be used against the novel coronavirus when used in accordance with the directions for use against [name of similar supporting virus(es)] on
hard surfaces. Refer to the CDC website for additional information.
Hope this is helpful and that everyone stays healthy and well-sanitized!