WHO Says Airborne Transmission of Coronavirus Unlikely but ‘Cannot be Ruled Out’

The World Health Organization (WHO) has just published a new scientific brief that highlights all the possible ways with which the coronavirus can transmit from one person to another. The brief is available at the official site of the health agency for all to read.

In the new report, WHO maintains that the virus is spread through close contact between people when one of them is infected. However, the agency admits that more research is needed to see if the virus is also spreading through airborne transmission as well.

The 10-page report, evaluated all the ways in which coronavirus may be spreading including close contact with droplets that are expelled by an infected person through coughing, sneezing, breathing or even speaking, through contaminated surfaces and through expulsion of small droplets by an infected person that has the potential to spread over large distances.

WHO also considered if the virus is spreading from mother to child, from animals to humans, through direct contact with feces, urine and even blood.

The report also highlighted that in healthcare settings airborne transmission may be a likely source because of the procedures called aerosol generating procedures. These procedures such as intubation of an infected person can generate very small droplets called aerosols.

The health agency also noted that some outbreak reports related to indoor crowded spaces have suggested the possibility of aerosol transmission, combined with droplet transmission, for example, during choir practice, in restaurants, nightclubs or in fitness classes.

In such places where people shout, talk or sing loudly, airborne transmission may be a significant factor or transmission and cannot be ruled out. It also explains single events that have resulted a huge number of a crowd in the event to get infected.

Infectious disease experts have also highlighted that there is a difference between the particles released when someone coughs or sneezes and that can transmit Covid-19 compared to aerosols.

Of course, the virus is slightly airborne because you do not need to come in direct contact with an infected person’s mouth or nose to get infected yourself. If a person sneezes or coughs that is enough to take the virus with help of droplets into another person, if they are in close contact.

On the other hand, airborne transmission because of aerosols means that virus can be taken to larger distances because of it being aerosolized.

These aerosols can stay in the air for long durations and can infect anyone who breathes that air directly. However, according to WHO this kind of transmission is only possible is close settings and is very unlikely.

Source: University of Hong Kong

One way to stay safe is to keep using masks and staying home whenever possible, according to many experts.

In a media briefing in Geneva, Dr. Benedetta Alleganzi, WHO technical lead for infection prevention and control, said that the health agency is actively discussing and collaborating with many scientists that first raised the concerns about airborne transmission of the virus.

The report comes just days after the publication of a letter signed by 239 scientists that urged WHO to be more forthcoming about the likelihood that people can catch the virus from droplets floating in the air.

The group that raised these concerns also gave practical advise to lower the risk of airborne transmission. Their advice included following actions that are practical, cheap, and easy to follow:

  • Ensure that closed spaces are sufficiently and effectively ventilated (supply clean outdoor air, minimize recirculating air), particularly high-risk places like schools, hospitals, public spaces, workplaces, and old-age houses.
Source: Ventilation Bremen
  • Another way is to install supplementary devices that can aid general ventilation like local exhaust, high efficiency air filtration, and germicidal ultraviolet lights. The experts advise to place these devices high up on the ceiling so that people’s skin or eye do not get damaged especially by UV lights.
  • Avoiding overcrowded places, particularly public transport and public buildings whenever possible.

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