Heat treatment denatures viral proteins that comprise the virion, making virus incapable of infecting a host. Coronavirus (CoV) virions contain single-stranded RNA genomes with a lipid envelope and 4 proteins, 3 of which are associated with the lipid envelope and thus are thought to be easily denatured by heat or surfactant-type chemicals. Prior studies have shown that a temperature of as low as 75 C and treatment duration of 15 min can effectively inactivate CoV. The applicability of a CoV heat inactivation method greatly depends on the length of time of a heat treatment and the temperature needed to inactivate the virus. With the goal of finding conditions where sub-second heat exposure of CoV can sufficiently inactivate CoV, we designed and developed a simple system that can measure sub-second heat inactivation of CoV. The system is composed of capillary stainless-steel tubing immersed in a temperature-controlled oil bath followed by an ice bath, through which virus solution can be flowed at various speeds. Flowing virus solution at different speeds, along with a real-time temperature monitoring system, allows the virus to be accurately exposed to a desired temperature for various durations of time. Using mouse hepatitis virus (MHV), a beta-coronavirus, as a model system, we identified that 85.2 C for 0.48 s exposure is sufficient to obtain > 5 Log10 reduction in viral titer (starting titer: 5 107 PFU/mL), and that when exposed to 83.4 C for 0.95 s, the virus was completely inactivated (zero titer, > 6 Log10 reduction).
Three coronaviruses (CoVs) have now caused global outbreaks within the past 20 years, with the COVID19 pandemic caused by SARS-CoV-2 still ongoing. Methods that can rapidly inactivate viruses, especially CoVs, can play critical roles in ensuring public safety and safeguarding personal health. Heat treatment of viruses to inactive them can be an efficient and inexpensive method, with the potential to be incorporated into various human-occupied spaces. In this work, a simple system that can heat-treat viruses for extremely short period was developed and utilized to show that sub-second exposure of CoV to heat is sufficient to inactivate CoV. This opens up the possibility of developing instruments and methods of disinfecting CoV in diverse settings, including rapid liquid disinfection and airborne virus disinfection. The developed method can also be broadly utilized to assess heat sensitivity of viruses other viral pathogens of interest and develop sub-second rapid heat inactivation approaches.