WHO finally admits COVID-19 may be airborne, plans to revise its guidelines in coming days

COVID-19 virus can spread in the air.

The WHO also acknowledged that there's emerging evidence that the SARS-Cov-2 virus can be spread by tiny particles suspended in the air.

Claiming that coronavirus is airborne, a group of scientists recently wrote to the World Health Organization (WHO) to revised its guidelines regarding the mode of transmission of COVID-19. However, the UN health agency had been insisting that there is no strong evidence to confirm airborne transmission for the virus. The officials at the organization on Tuesday finally admitted that COVID-19 may be airborne and that spread of the virus in the air cannot be ruled out. It also acknowledged that there's emerging evidence that the SARS-Cov-2 virus can be spread by tiny particles suspended in the air. However, WHO officials have cautioned that the evidence is preliminary and further assessment is required.

Mention may be made that a group of 239 scientists from 32 countries has accused the agency of underestimating the possibility of airborne spread of coronavirus, which has already infected over 11 million people and claimed over 5 lakh lives worldwide. Till now WHO and health authorities of different countries have agreed upon the common theory that the novel coronavirus is primarily transmitted via respiratory droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

At Tuesday's briefing in Geneva, the WHO's technical lead for infection prevention and control Benedetta Allegranzi said that the possibility of airborne transmission in public settings cannot be ruled out. However, she added that evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and WHO will continue providing its support to it.

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What does it mean by airborne?

According to the scientists, the novel coronavirus may be carried by large as well as smaller exhaled droplets. While heavier respiratory droplets don't reach more than 6 feet from an infected person, micro-droplets can travel up to several meters, or room length and hang in the air for several hours, they said in the open letter published July 6 in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.`

Suggesting that there's significant potential for inhalation exposure to the virus in the microscopic respiratory droplets, the researchers are advocating for the use of preventive measures to mitigate this route of airborne transmission. This means you can catch disease simply by breathing. The disease caused by a microbe transmitted through the air is known as an airborne disease.

A preliminary study posted on the preprint database medRxiv had also claimed that the COVID-19 virus can survive in the air for hours in fine particles known as aerosols and can spread quickly like SARS. It said that the virus can remain active for up to 3 hours after aerosolization and can infect cells throughout that time period.

The WHO plans to publish a scientific brief summarising the state of knowledge on modes of transmission of the virus in the coming days, according to Maria Van Kerkhove, the agency's technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to prevent yourself from airborne diseases

As coronavirus could survive in the air for hours, social distancing practices may not be enough to stop infection and spread of the disease, experts said. You can't completely avoid airborne pathogens, but you can lower your chances of getting the infection or spreading the infection by following these steps:

  • Don't go near people who have active symptoms of the disease.
  • If you're sick, stay home and avoid close contact with vulnerable people, like elderly people and those who have underlying health conditions.
  • Wear a face mask when you're in public places or crowded areas to prevent spreading or inhaling germs.
  • Always cover your mouth with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze so that the germs don't reach your hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (at least 20 seconds), especially after sneezing or coughing.
  • Do not touch your face with unwashed hands.

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