Occurrence of respiratory viruses on school desks

Published:December 18, 2020DOI:


      • Primary schools are congregate settings with elevated risk of transmitting respiratory viruses.
      • Desk surfaces were sampled during the 2019 cold season, human respiratory viruses were quantified.
      • Adenovirus, rhinovirus, and coronavirus occurred on approximately 20% of desks sampled.
      • The results can inform risk assessment and may be useful for COVID-19 surveillance.


      Schools represent high occupancy environments and well-documented high-risk locations for the transmission of respiratory viruses. The goal of this study was to report on the area density, occurrence, and type of respiratory viruses on desks in primary school classrooms.


      Quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) techniques were employed to measure nucleic acid area densities from a broad range of human adenoviruses and rhinoviruses, as well as coronavirus OC43, influenza A, and norovirus GI. Every two weeks, virus monitoring was conducted on the desks of four primary school classrooms in Colorado, USA, during the 2019 respiratory virus season.


      DNA and RNA from respiratory viruses and norovirus were recovered from more than 20% of the desks sampled; occurrence patterns that indicate a greater than 60% probability of encountering any virus, if more than five desks were occupied in a day. Rhinoviruses and adenoviruses were the most commonly detected viruses as judged by the composite of occurrence and number of gene copies recovered. Desktop adenosine triphosphate monitoring did not predict the recovery of viral genomic materials on desks. School desks can be commonly contaminated with respiratory viruses.


      Genomic surveys of the identity, distribution and abundance of human viruses on “high-touch” surfaces, can help inform risk assessments, design cleaning interventions, and may be useful for infection surveillance.

      Key Words


      ATP (adenosine triphosphate), HAdV (human adenovirus), HCoV (human coronavirus), HIV (human influenza virus), HNoV (human norovirus), HRV (human rhinovirus), q(RT) PCR (quantitative reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction)
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