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Scientists say coronavirus is airborne: Will WHO revise its recomendations now?

COVID-19 virus can spread through air and can infect people when inhaled, warn scientists.

The WHO has said that coronavirus disease spreads primarily from person to person through respiratory droplets, which are released when an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : July 7, 2020 8:18 AM IST

The COVID-19 outbreak has been spreading like a wildfire since it was first detected in China's Wuhan city. As of July 7, the contagious virus has infected over 11 million people worldwide and claimed more than 5 lakh lives. Several theories have been proposed regarding the mode of transmission of the virus. One commonly accepted theory, also acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO), is that COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, spreads primarily from person to person through respiratory droplets, which are expelled when a person infected with the virus coughs, sneezes or speaks. Based on this theory, people have been advised to maintain social distancing and practise hand hygiene to prevent exposure to the deadly virus. But it turns out that the virus is more dangerous than it was imagined. As per a new theory, the virus may be in the air too. This means that there are high chances that you might inhale it. Sounds scary, right?

Hundreds of scientists from across the globe have claimed to have found evidence that coronavirus is airborne, and they are calling for the World Health Organization (WHO) to revise its rules and recommendations regarding the COVID-19 prevention. According to the group of scientists, there is evidence that novel coronavirus in smaller particles in the air can infect people, a US leading daily reported on Saturday.

In an open letter to the agency, 239 scientists from 32 countries have outlined the evidence showing smaller particles can infect people, the paper stated. The researchers plan to publish the letter in a scientific journal next week.

WHO not convinced yet

The scientist noted that not just the novel coronavirus may be carried by large droplets released through the air after a sneeze, but much smaller exhaled droplets containing the virus may glide the length of a room. They concluded that coronavirus is borne through the air and can infect people when inhaled.

However, the WHO told the newspaper that the evidence for the virus being airborne was not convincing.

"Especially in the last couple of months, we have been stating several times that we consider airborne transmission as possible but certainly not supported by solid or even clear evidence," Dr. Benedetta Allegranzi, the WHO's technical lead of infection prevention and control, was quoted as saying by the newspaper.

Coronavirus can survive in the air for hours

Earlier a preliminary study posted on the preprint database medRxiv had suggested that COVID-19 can survive in the air for hours in fine particles known as aerosols and can spread quickly like SARS. The researchers also said that the virus can be detected for up to 3 hours after aerosolization and can infect cells throughout that time period.

The researchers were not clear how high a concentration of viable SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) is needed in practice to infect a human being. But they noted that aerosols can potentially travel across far greater distances.

The new findings argue the current scientific consensus that says at most new coronavirus transmission occurs through respiratory secretions in the form of large respiratory droplets on the surface.

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