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Low risk of Covid-19 spread via sporting equipment, research shows

The risk of Covid-19 being transmitted via sporting equipment — including saddles — is low, a study published this week has indicated.

Researchers from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, Imperial College London and Loughborough University looked at how long the coronavirus could survive on shared equipment across multiple sports.

These included a cricket glove, tennis ball, saddle, rugby ball, golf ball, gym pit foam, cricket balls and a football.

While the virus remained on the saddle for the longest amount of time out of all the equipment tested, the detectable amount greatly reduced over time.

The tests involved dropping low and high concentrations of the virus on to the equipment, then testing each at intervals of one, five, 15, 30 and 90 minutes to see how many live virus particles remained.

At one minute, the virus was only detectable in seven out of the 10 materials, when using the low dose. At five minutes, it was only detectable on the saddle, and no virus was found on any material at 15 minutes.

The results using the high dose of Covid found the virus was recoverable from every material except the cricket glove at one minute, but the viral load on all the other materials had reduced.

At 90 minutes, only the saddle and the rugby ball had the virus still on them and the amount that could be recovered was far lower than the viral load at the starting point.

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“This study shows that there is an exponential reduction in [Covid-19] recoverable from a range of sports equipment after a short time period, and virus is less transferrable from materials such as a tennis ball, red cricket ball and cricket glove,” concluded the researchers.

“Given this rapid loss of viral load and the fact that transmission requires a significant inoculum to be transferred from equipment to the mucous membranes of another individual it seems unlikely that sports equipment is a major cause for transmission of [coronavirus].

“These findings have important policy implications in the context of the pandemic and may promote other infection control measures in sports to reduce the risk of [coronavirus] transmission and urge sports equipment manufacturers to identify surfaces that may or may not be likely to retain transferable virus.”

The research was funded by philanthropic donations and contributions from the UK national sporting governing bodies. It is new medical research that has not yet been peer-reviewed, and was published on MedRxiv on 8 February.

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