Climber's chalk may help reduce presence of coronavirus according to the first findings of a study from De Montfort University that was commissioned by the ABC.
The initial results from a study on the relationship between a human coronavirus and climbing chalk may suggest that the amount of infectious virus is reduced by around 99% immediately upon contact with a chalky plastic surface, whereas with no chalk dust present there was only a slight decline over a period of one hour.
This report, commissioned by the Association of British Climbing Walls (ABC), suggests that chalk will not act as a reservoir for coronavirus – a concern that had been raised by members of the climbing community – but could aid in reducing the risk of infection.
However, while this preliminary data is helpful to the debate, Professor Ian Hall cautions that there are a few caveats to the study from De Montfort University. Firstly, the study is small with a sample size of only three. Secondly, for obvious reasons they didn’t use SARS-CoV2 but instead another virus which may potentially behave differently, and lastly the report hasn’t been formally peer reviewed or published.
Professor Hall says: “I think this contributes to the debate but shouldn’t be used as evidence indoor holds are completely safe in terms of transmission if one uses chalk. Having said that I actually think the risk of acquiring the virus from indoor holds is minimal, and agree that I would expect chalk to further reduce it. If you think about it, there isn’t much difference between using indoor holds on a wall and using holds whilst bouldering at a popular spot outdoors, the only differences being perhaps more intensive use indoors and that the virus may be more likely to be deposited and last a bit longer indoors. Hand hygiene remains the best way to prevent transfer of virus from a contaminated surface”
At the start of the pandemic, the ABC set up working groups to support climbing walls through the crisis. David and Robert Stevens from The Warehouse Climbing Wall, Gloucester approached Rich Emerson, ABC Chair, as they had a relationship with a world leading research team in De Montfort University.
Rich spoke with Jeremy Wilson from The Lakeland Climbing Centre, leader of one of the ABC working group responsible for researching the science behind the virus and climbing and commissioned the team at De Montfort University to undertake the research, led by Dr Katie Laird (Head of the Infectious Disease Research Group), Dr Maitreyi Shivkumar (Virologist) and Dr Lucy Owen (Postdoctoral Researcher). The team admit it was novel research and it took some time to set up the test method protocols.
A model coronavirus for SARS-CoV-2, human coronavirus OC43, was used for the experiments. The presence of infectious virus on a plastic surface dusted with chalk was monitored over the course of one hour. The results suggest that that the amount of infectious virus was reduced by around 99% immediately upon contact with the chalky surfaces. By comparison, the control test where no chalk dust was present, showed only a slight decline in infectious virus over these time periods.
The full report will be published in early August.
Following the press release on the 24th July 2020, the ABC and DMU would like to clarify that whilst the initial results are extremely exciting, the research is not yet complete and the full report will be published next week. Dr Katie Laird confirmed the research does show some promising results but firm conclusions should wait until the research is complete. The ABC were keen to issue the interim results to offer some reassurance to the climbing community but as already stated have not changed the advice to climbing centres who are planning to reopen this weekend.
In an updated statement, Rich Emerson, Chair of the ABC, said:
“These results look fantastic and show chalk could once again be the climbers best friend. We hope that it will provide comfort to our customers as they return to climbing at indoor walls. We will not lessen all our other COVID-safe measures such as regular hand sanitisation and social distancing but this extra factor should temper fears that chalky handholds could be vectors of the disease. We await the formal scientific report with anticipation. I would like to thank David and Robert Stevens of The Warehouse and Jeremy Wilson of The Lakeland Climbing Centre for this research initiative and hope further work can be done worldwide as it could impact all sports where chalk is used."
Read the full press release here.
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