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WHO Acknowledges Evidence on Airborne COVID-19 Spreading

  • A handful of studies have examined airborne coronavirus particles as a way a contagion.

    A handful of studies have examined airborne coronavirus particles as a way a contagion. | Photo: AFP/Fabrice Cofrinni

Published 7 July 2020

 More than 200 scientists from 30 countries have warned about this way of contagion.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Tuesday recognized that there is "evidence emerging" of airborne spread of the COVID-19 following a series of studies on the new way of transmission.


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During a news briefing Maria Van Kerkhove, COVID-19 Technical Lead at the WHO, said that the institution has been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of contagion of COVID-19.

However, the United Nation's organization would publish a scientific brief summarising the state of knowledge on modes of transmission of the virus in the coming days.

The announcement comes in the wake of a letter published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, signed by 239 scientists from over 30 countries and co-written by a WHO consultant, which alerts that there is a serious risk of contracting the COVID-19 by inhaling tiny respiratory droplets that can linger in the air.

So far, the WHO had explained that the coronavirus is primarily spread by droplets from someone who is coughing, sneezing, or even talking within a few feet away, but the recent announcement opens up the possibility that people can get the virus through particles suspended in the air.

"The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings - especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out," Van Kerkhove said.

A handful of studies have examined airborne coronavirus particles as a way a contagion. One of the investigations from April published in the magazine Nature looked at aerosols sampled in February and March at two hospitals in Wuhan, China.

The scientists discovered that there were measurably higher levels in some of the patients' toilet areas. They also found high levels of viral RNA in places where medical workers remove protective gear, as well as in two crowding-prone locations near the hospitals.

Another research published in the U.S. journal PNAS studied the transmission pathways of COVID-19 by analyzing the trend and mitigation measures used in Wuhan in China, New York City, and Italy.

The scientists concluded that "ven with normal nasal breathing, inhalation of virus-bearing aerosols results in deep and continuous deposition into the human respiratory tract".

"Our work suggests that the failure in containing the propagation of COVID-19 pandemic worldwide is largely attributed to the unrecognized importance of airborne virus transmission," the researchers concluded.

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