Respiratory Tract Infection (RTI) How RTI Spread From Surfaces

Respiratory Tract Infection (RTI): How RTI Spread From Surfaces

Last Updated: 24th July, 2022

Respiratory Tract Infection (RTI): Conventional upper respiratory tract infections include sinusitis, tonsillitis, laryngitis, otitis media, pharyngitis common cold and certain varieties of the flu. Cough, sore throat, runny nose, nasal congestion, a headache, low level fever, facial pressure and sneezing typically includes symptoms of URI or URTIs.

What Is Respiratory Tract Infection (RTI)?

The human respiratory system comprises the upper respiratory tract infection (URI or URTI) and lower respiratory tract infection (LRI or LRTI). The upper respiratory tract includes the nose, sinuses, throat while the lower respiratory tract includes airways and lungs.


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Respiratory tract infection (RTI) mainly occurs due to bacteria or viruses. Infections that occur in the upper respiratory tract are the common cold, cough, mild flu, sinus infection, and tonsillitis. Infections that occur in the lower respiratory tract are pneumonia, bronchitis, and tuberculosis.

How Do Respiratory Tract Infection (RTI) Spread From Surfaces?

Respiratory tract infection (RTI) generally spreads through frequently touched surfaces. This mode of transmission of infection is called indirect contact transmission and the surfaces are known as fomites. Fomites refer to commonly touched surfaces that can transmit and spread the disease. RTI spread when you touch surfaces contaminated with bacteria or viruses and then touch your eyes, nose or mouth before washing your hands.


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Some of the surfaces that are frequently touched and maybe a source of infection include handles, door knobs, lift buttons, desks, chairs, keyboards, mouse, phones, lock and keys, toilets, taps, sink staircase railings, etc.

Typical viruses and their survival time on various surfaces:


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  1. Influenza A virus: These can survive for 24–48 hours on a non-porous surface (metal, glass, plastic) and up to 8–12 hours on porous surfaces (paper, wood, cardboard).
  2. Human Rhinovirus: The survival times of the infective rhinoviruses virus and viral RNA have been reported as > 24 hours and > 48 hours.
  3. Coronavirus (COVID19): Survival times for the coronavirus on surfaces can greatly vary. One study showed the survival time of SARS was limited & could not be recovered from certain surfaces. However, some other studies indicate survival times for SARS and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) to be much longer, depending on the type of surface. The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus is known to survive on plastic & stainless steel for 72 hours, cardboard for 24 hours, and copper for 4 hours.

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Now, let’s have a look at some of the important precautions to be taken to prevent the spread of respiratory tract infection (RTI) from frequently touched surfaces.

Steps to prevent indirect transmission:

  1. Cleansing: This refers to the removal of any kind of impurities, dirt, and germs from surfaces by simply using water and soap. It does not eliminate germs, but by lowering their number to a certain extent, it reduces the risk of spreading infection.
  2. Disinfecting: This refers to the killing of germs on the surfaces not visible to the naked eye by using certain chemicals (EPA-approved disinfectants). This process might not clean filthy surfaces, but by killing germs, it reduces the risk of infection.
  3. Sanitizing: This process lowers the number of germs to a reasonable level, as declared by public health standards. Traditionally, sanitization is done in places like kitchens and other areas that come in close contact with food. You may also sanitize frequently contacted surfaces like doorknobs, handles, etc. or toys that your baby plays with.

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Respiratory tract infection (RTI) is caused by bacteria and viruses around us. To such a degree, it is vital to understand its mode of transmission and adopt necessary precautions to defend yourself and help prevent the spread of illnesses.

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