Fact check: do gifts transmit viruses?

Christmas is the time of gifts. How high is the risk of contracting the coronavirus via smear infections from Christmas cards and parcels?

The Christmas season is just around the corner: gifts are lovingly wrapped, Christmas cards written and then taken under the Christmas tree or to the post office. However, caution may be required during the Corona period. Because: "Everyone who exhales viruses in the form of aerosols also contaminates surfaces," explains Andreas Podbielski, the director of the Institute for Medical Microbiology, Virology and Hygiene at the University of Rostock. So can parcels and cards turn into viruses?

Virus spinner under the Christmas tree

CLAIM: Coronaviruses can survive on the surfaces of postcards or gifts long enough to subsequently cause infections in the recipient.

EVALUATION: According to experts, the likelihood of this is extremely low.

FACTS: "The fact that coronaviruses are transmitted through cards or wrapped gifts at Christmas is completely unreal," says Podbielski. The viruses could not multiply on such surfaces anyway. "That is only possible if they are in cells," explains the expert. In addition, the environmental stability of corona viruses is far too low.

The death of these pathogens on cards and paper goes relatively quickly. "It's a matter of minutes to a few hours," explains Podbielski. The situation is different with hepatitis A viruses, for example, which could survive for days, if not weeks, in the area.

The EU health authority ECDC also confirms on its homepage: "In practice there is no evidence of Covid-19 transmission through contaminated packaging." Although there are experiments in which the virus can survive for up to 24 hours on cardboard, for example, these are studies under laboratory conditions. Nevertheless, the recommendation is: Wash your hands frequently if you come into contact with many surfaces and packaging.

No evidence of infection via objects

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment currently has no evidence that people have become infected through contaminated surfaces. "However, smear infections via surfaces that were previously contaminated with viruses cannot be ruled out," says the website.

Even if it cannot be ruled out, Podbielski considers infections in this way to be "completely unlikely". "Somebody would have to cough on a postcard, press it directly into someone else's hand and he would put his finger in his mouth immediately," says the expert. Podbielski therefore believes that gifts and cards do not have to be specially disinfected before they are handed over.

In theory, overcrowded parcel stations and post offices pose a greater risk of infection. "But since we have admission controls and equalization measures everywhere, the risk is low here too," says Podbielski.