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At the request of scientists: WHO recognized another transmission route for coronavirus

World Health Organization has expanded its coronavirus guide adding information about the possibility of aerosol transmission of the virus, in which the infection can spread through tiny droplets that remain in the air, writes NBC News.

Photo: Shutterstock

The update appeared on Thursday, July 9th, after open letter signed by more than 200 scientists, made the agency recognize the potential role that tiny droplets (or aerosols) play in the airborne transmission of the virus among people in crowded rooms.

“COVID-19 outbreaks have been reported in some enclosed spaces, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship, or offices where people can shout, talk, or sing,” an update on WHO data said. “In these outbreaks, transmission of the virus by aerosol cannot be ruled out, especially in crowded and inadequately ventilated rooms where infected people spend a lot of time next to others.

The agency said additional research is needed "to urgently investigate such cases and assess their relevance to the transmission of COVID-19."

The WHO expanded guidance notes that aerosols are only a small part of how coronavirus spreads, and close contact with an infected person is still the most common mode of transmission.

“You can apply all of these definitions, but we have always been concerned about the spread of the virus during extended periods of people in small rooms,” said Cindy Prince, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

For respiratory diseases such as COVID-19, the medical community names two main routes of transmission: airborne and aerosol. In airborne transmission, virus particles can fly out of the mouth or nose when a person speaks, coughs or sneezes. Drops can spread up to 6 feet (about 2 meters) from an infected person, but then quickly fall to the ground or to other surfaces.

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In aerosol transmission, unlike airborne droplets, virus particles are much smaller and stay much longer in the air. They are able to cover significantly greater distances than 6 feet, which are considered a safe distance between people. The smallest particles are able to move away from the infected person, "floating" in the air currents. Measles, chickenpox, and tuberculosis are diseases that can be spread by aerosol.

When Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the United States, was asked about the aerosol distribution of coronavirus, he replied: “There is no convincing evidence that this type of transmission occurs. But we cannot completely rule it out. ”

Although the airborne and aerosol types of transmission are different from each other, they are not mutually exclusive, said Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.

“We often think of these clinical definitions as scattered, but that’s not entirely accurate,” says Bogokh. “When we think about COVID-19, some kind of aerosol transmission is quite likely, but we can say with confidence that most of the transmission falls on the airborne route.”

Gogh pointed to hospital protocols as a key indicator that aerosol transmission can be rare. In treating patients with coronavirus, most hospitals in the fight against infection adhered to guidelines designed for airborne droplets, and not to more stringent procedures to protect against aerosol transmitted infections.

According to Bogokh, if COVID-19 were indeed transmitted predominantly by aerosol, then the incidence rate among health workers would be much higher.

“Our personal protective equipment - masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection - was chosen as a precaution against airborne transmission, and in the vast majority of cases when we have access to these things and use them correctly, we are not infected with this infection, "- he argued.

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Dr. Carlos del Rio, Executive Assistant to the Dean of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, believes that aerosol transmission is likely to be a risk under certain conditions, but WHO updates do not provide radically different recommendations compared to existing ones.

“If I am in a crowded small room with a group of infected people, there must be an aerosol transmission. But if I am in a large room or on the street and someone is walking nearby, I’m not too worried about the aerosol transmission, ”he added.

According to Prince, the updated information should reinforce the existing recommendations of public health officials, such as the practice of social distance and avoiding crowded rooms.

Del Rio is sure: even if you don’t need to wear masks, people should wear them in public places.

“Everyone must wear a mask,” he insists. “We should inform people that there are no other options.”

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