Oral mouthwashes decrease the infectivity of several respiratory viruses including SARS-CoV-2. However, the precise agents with antiviral activity in these oral rinses and their exact mechanism of action remain unknown. Here we show that cetylpyridinium chloride (CPC), a quaternary ammonium compound in many oral mouthwashes, reduces SARS-CoV-2 infectivity by inhibiting the viral fusion step with target cells after disrupting the integrity of the viral envelope. We also found that CPC-containing mouth rinses decreased more than a thousand times the infectivity of SARS-CoV-2 in vitro, while the corresponding vehicles had no effect. This activity was effective for different SARS-CoV-2 variants, including the B.1.1.7 or Alpha variant originally identified in United Kingdom, and in the presence of sterilized saliva. CPC-containing mouth rinses could therefore represent a cost-effective measure to reduce SARS-CoV-2 infectivity in saliva, aiding to reduce viral transmission from infected individuals regardless of the variants they are infected with.
Keywords: COVID-19; airborne transmission; cellular infection; coronaviruses; oral hygiene; virucide.