Warming a virus only helps it

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Dear Editor:

Upon first reading Joe Grace’s letter in the April 29th edition of your newspaper, I assumed he was attempting some sort of parody of Trump’s suggestion that we inject disinfectant into our bodies as a way to combat coronavirus infection.

Your publication would certainly not offer a mouthpiece to the uninformed notion that we can combat this virus by heating buildings to raise “the inside temperature to as high as 80 degrees, or even 85.”

Email newsletter signup

To be clear, biological activity does peak at a certain temperature, and it falls off as things get hotter or colder. Viruses and living things slow down at lower temperatures, simply because the rate of chemical reactions decreases with temperature. (This is why virus material can be preserved in low-temperature freezers, and why cooling or freezing leftovers is a good way to slow their rate of spoilage). And while all biochemical reactions recommence and increase in rate upon unfreezing and heating up, simple heat is not enough to kill germs.

Significantly high temperatures are needed to kill bacteria, viruses, and other germs. Like living organisms, a large portion of viruses is made of protein. Most proteins don’t start to denature — lose their shape and function — until several degrees past 100 Fahrenheit.

I’m no virologist, but I would guess that the novel coronavirus’s optimal temperature is around 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. So if you want to deactivate a virus, you’ve got to cook it. Simply warming it up is only going to encourage its virulence. And I don’t think any of us wants to risk heat stroke to rid coronavirus from our environment.

Ben Campbell