Coronavirus fear: COVID-19 may be airborne, says study
The paper, published in scientific journal Nature today, makes worrying reading for public health officials trying to reduce infections across the globe, with the number of cases worldwide certain to pass three million today, and more than 200,000 deaths. A team of researchers led by Wuhan University’s Ke Lan investigated whether the coronavirus which cause COVID-19, SARS-CoV-2, had the potential to travel longer distances through the air.
Their report states: “While the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via human respiratory droplets and direct contact is clear, the potential for aerosol transmission is poorly understood.
“This study investigated the aerodynamic nature of SARS-CoV-2 by measuring viral RNA in aerosols in different areas of two Wuhan hospitals during the COVID-19 outbreak in February and March 2020.”
The concentration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in aerosols identified in isolation wards and ventilated patient rooms was very low, but more elevated in the patients’ toilet areas, the research explains.
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Although we have not established the infectivity of the virus detected in these hospital areas, we propose that SARS-CoV-2 may have the potential to be transmitted via aerosols
The team adds: “Levels of airborne SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the majority of public areas was undetectable except in two areas prone to crowding, possibly due to infected carriers in the crowd. “
Some medical staff areas initially had high concentrations of viral RNA with aerosol size distributions, but these were reduced dramatically after implementation of rigorous sanitisation procedures, highlighting the importance of taking adequate precautions, the paper said.
The scientists add: “Although we have not established the infectivity of the virus detected in these hospital areas, we propose that SARS-CoV-2 may have the potential to be transmitted via aerosols.
“Our results indicate that room ventilation, open space, sanitisation of protective apparel, and proper use and disinfection of toilet areas can effectively limit the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in aerosols.
Diseases which can be spread via the air include influenza, chickenpox and measles.
“Future work should explore the infectivity of aerosolised virus.”
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So far the World Health Organization has largely discounted the possibility of airbourne infections over any significant distance.
A statement carried on its website says: “People can catch COVID-19 from others who have the virus.
“The disease spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks.”
Such droplets are relatively heavy, do not travel far and quickly sink to the ground, the WHO says.
The statement adds: “People can catch COVID-19 if they breathe in these droplets from a person infected with the virus.
“This is why it is important to stay at least one metre (three feet) away from others. These droplets can land on objects and surfaces around the person such as tables, doorknobs and handrails.
“People can become infected by touching these objects or surfaces, then touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
“This is why it is important to wash your hands regularly with soap and water or clean with alcohol-based hand rub.”
However, the statement concludes: “WHO is assessing ongoing research on the ways that COVID-19 is spread and will continue to share updated findings.”
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