What is Airborne Transmission? WHO Updates Guidelines for COVID-19

2 min read
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After being urged by 239 scientists across the globe, the World Health Organisation (WHO) acknowledged emerging evidence that the novel coronavirus may be airborne on 8 Juy.

A day later, on 9 July, they expanded their COVID-19 guidelines to include airborne transmission.

WHO had earlier said that COVID-19 may be spread through aerosol-generating procedures in hopsital settings, but have now added,

“There have been reported outbreaks of COVID-19 in some closed settings, such as restaurants, nightclubs, places of worship or places of work where people may be shouting, talking, or singing.  In these outbreaks, aerosol transmission, particularly in these indoor locations where there are crowded and inadequately ventilated spaces where infected persons spend long periods of time with others, cannot be ruled out.”
World Health Organsiation

The WHO asserts the need for more studies and evidence to further assess the significance of airborne transmission.

It’s noteworthy that the WHO is open to suggestions and evidence from the scientific community, although, reportedly, experts maintain that airborne transmission is a small part of how the virus spreads. Droplet transmission is still the bigger way in which this spreads.

What this new information does mean is that it is imperative to avoid crowded spaces, and masks and physical distancing are a must. 

What Does this Mean? How Does the Virus Stay in the Air?

There is now mounting recognition that the virus can remain suspended in the air in smaller, tinier droplets called aerosols. These aerosols can be released even when an infected person breathes or talks. Anyone who inhales the same air can catch the disease.

This could explain how asymptomatic people who do not necessarily sneeze or cough could be carriers of the infection.

We don’t know for sure for how long the virus lingers. Experts agree that aerosols may not travel long distances or remain viable outdoors, The New York Times reported. But crowded spaces and poorly ventilated indoors could be breeding grounds for infection.

A single person can release enough aerosolized virus over time to infect many people in a closed room, which could even lead to a superspreader event.

But aerosols are smaller in size, so they contain lesser virus than big droplets. Even the tiniest measures can help.


How to Stay Safe?

  • Wear your mask.
  • Physical distancing and handwashing are still extremely important. But they may not be enough.
  • Preventing airborne transmission would mean avoiding crowded indoor spaces as much as possible.
  • If you do spend time indoors, do not forget to wear a mask, except maybe around family and friends who you know have stayed safe.
  • Ensure enough fresh air is circulating through a room.
  • Open windows and doors as much as possible.
  • If you can, upgrade the filters in your home air-conditioning systems.
  • If schools, offices, malls and stores reopen, the ventilation systems may need to add powerful new filters to avoid recirculating the same air.
  • In the right setting, the use of ultraviolet lights that can kill the virus may also be considered to prevent transmission through smaller droplets.
  • Remember, stagnant air inside closed doors could be your enemy.

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