The role of airborne droplets – or aerosols – in the spread of the novel coronavirus is currently being controversially discussed.
However, a new study from the University of Florida has confirmed that these droplets not only contain genetic material, they are actually contagious.
Air samples taken from a hospital room found contagious virus particles between seven and 16 feet from patients who were lying in their beds.
The latter is much larger than the 6-foot guidelines recommended by public health experts to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
In a new study from the University of Florida, researchers took air samples from a hospital room with two coronavirus patients, one of whom had an active infection (above).
Infectious coronavirus particles were found in air samples taken between seven and 16 feet from patients (above).
Until recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) claimed that aerosol transmission of coronavirus was only possible in hospitals during medical procedures with nebulizers and suction.
Last month the WHO officially recognized that SARS-CoV-2, the official name of the virus, can be transmitted by aerosols.
But there are still plenty of experts among agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Public Health in England who have downplayed the role of aerosols and focused on droplets spread by coughing and sneezing.
Aerosol spread occurs when respiratory droplets produce tiny particles less than five microns in size that are smaller than a pollen particle.
These aerosols can be inhaled and, if enough, can cause infections.
This method is more dangerous than breath droplets in terms of transmission, but it can be reduced by avoiding crowded indoor spaces.
For the study, published on the pre-print site medRxiv.orgThe team collected air samples from the room of two coronavirus patients at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital.
One of the patients had an active infection and did not undergo medical procedures that the WHO claims are the main drivers of aerosol transmission.
In addition, the room was previously equipped with security measures such as six air changes per hour and ultraviolet light.
The researchers used viable virus aerosol samplers that enlarged aerosolized virus particles in order to capture them and then tested them.
Tests showed that viable, infectious viruses were found in samples taken between two and 4.8 meters from patients.
The genome sequence of the virus found in air samples was identical to that of a swab from the patient with the active infection.
The genome sequencing of the virus in the air samples was the same as that of the swab from the patient with the active infection. Pictured: A medical staff attendant treats a patient wearing a ventilator-based ventilator in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at the United Memorial Medical Center in Houston, Texas, July 28th
Several experts say this is clear evidence of the danger of aerosol spread, including Dr. Linsey Marr, professor of engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
"If this isn't a smoking weapon then I don't know what it is," she said tweeted last week.
The team says the public health impact of the results is far-reaching, as current best practices to limit the spread of coronavirus are social distancing, wearing masks, and washing hands.
However, measures such as a distance of two meters are not helpful indoors when it comes to the transmission of aerosols.
"With the current surge in cases, clear guidelines for control measures against SARS-CoV-2 aerosols are needed to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, as recently suggested by other scientists," the authors wrote.
There are currently more than 5.1 million confirmed cases of the virus and more than 164,000 deaths in the United States.
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