Ancestral Lineage of SARS-CoV-2 Is More Stable in Human Biological Fluids than Alpha, Beta, and Omicron Variants of Concern

Microbiol Spectr. 2023 Feb 14;11(1):e0330122. doi: 10.1128/spectrum.03301-22. Epub 2023 Jan 23.


SARS-CoV-2 is a zoonotic virus first identified in 2019, and has quickly spread worldwide. The virus is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets from infected persons; however, the virus-laden excretions can contaminate surfaces which can serve as a potential source of infection. Since the beginning of the pandemic, SARS-CoV-2 has continued to evolve and accumulate mutations throughout its genome leading to the emergence of variants of concern (VOCs) which exhibit increased fitness, transmissibility, and/or virulence. However, the stability of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs in biological fluids has not been thoroughly investigated. The aim of this study was to determine and compare the stability of different SARS-CoV-2 strains in human biological fluids. Here, we demonstrate that the ancestral strain of the Wuhan-like lineage A was more stable than the Alpha VOC B.1.1.7, and the Beta VOC B.1.351 strains in human liquid nasal mucus and sputum. In contrast, there was no difference in stability among the three strains in dried biological fluids. Furthermore, we also show that the Omicron VOC B.1.1.529 strain was less stable than the ancestral Wuhan-like strain in liquid nasal mucus. These studies provide insight into the effect of the molecular evolution of SARS-CoV-2 on environmental virus stability, which is important information for the development of countermeasures against SARS-CoV-2. IMPORTANCE Genetic evolution of SARS-CoV-2 leads to the continuous emergence of novel virus variants, posing a significant concern to global public health. Five of these variants have been classified to date into variants of concern (VOCs); Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, and Omicron. Previous studies investigated the stability of SARS-CoV-2 under various conditions, but there is a gap of knowledge on the survival of SARS-CoV-2 VOCs in human biological fluids which are clinically relevant. Here, we present evidence that Alpha, Beta, and Omicron VOCs were less stable than the ancestral Wuhan-like strain in human biological fluids. Our findings highlight the potential risk of contaminated human biological fluids in SARS-CoV-2 transmission and contribute to the development of countermeasures against SARS-CoV-2.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; human biological fluids; stability; variants of concern.

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19* / epidemiology
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Humans
  • Mutation
  • SARS-CoV-2 / genetics

Supplementary concepts

  • SARS-CoV-2 variants