The role of ion dissolution in metal and metal oxide surface inactivation of SARS CoV-2

Jane Victoria Hilton, Yoshiko Nanao, Machiel Geert Flokstra, Meisam Askari, Terry K Smith, Andrea Di Falco, Phil King, Peter Wahl, Catherine S Adamson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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Anti-viral surface coatings are under development to prevent viral fomite transmission from high-traffic touch surfaces in public spaces. Copper’s anti-viral properties have been widely documented, but the anti-viral mechanism of copper surfaces is not fully understood. We screened a series of metal and metal oxide surfaces for anti-viral activity against severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), the causative agent of coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Copper and copper oxide surfaces exhibited superior anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity; however, the level of anti-viral activity was dependent on the composition of the carrier solution used to deliver virus inoculum. We demonstrate that copper ions released into solution from test surfaces can mediate virus inactivation, indicating a copper ion dissolution-dependent anti-viral mechanism. The level of anti-viral activity is, however, not dependent on the amount of copper ions released into solution per se. Instead, our findings suggest that degree of virus inactivation is dependent on copper ion complexation with other biomolecules (e.g., proteins/metabolites) in the virus carrier solution that compete with viral components. Although using tissue culture-derived virus inoculum is experimentally convenient to evaluate the anti-viral activity of copper-derived test surfaces, we propose that the high organic content of tissue culture medium reduces the availability of “uncomplexed” copper ions to interact with the virus, negatively affecting virus inactivation and hence surface anti-viral performance. We propose that laboratory anti-viral surface testing should include virus delivered in a physiologically relevant carrier solution (saliva or nasal secretions when testing respiratory viruses) to accurately predict real-life surface anti-viral performance when deployed in public spaces.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere01553-23
Number of pages15
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number2
Early online date23 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • Antimicrobial surfaces
  • Anti-viral surfaces
  • Copper surfaces
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • COVID-19
  • Fomite transmission
  • Respiratory viruses
  • Enteric viruses
  • Ion dissolution
  • Metal oxides


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