Airborne or Aerosol – Are we fighting wrong way against Covid-19?


The recognition of new coronavirus as the cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was certainly remarkable, yet not surprising. The biology of coronavirus has resulted in a greater understanding of their capacity for adaptation to new environments, transspecies infection, and the emergence of new diseases. The coronavirus virion is an enveloped particle containing the spike (S), membrane (M), and envelope (E) proteins. The genome of coronavirus is a linear, single-stranded RNA molecule of positive polarity and from 28 to 32kb in length.

The coronavirus has brought countries to a standstill. Globally there have been over 1.18 crore confirmed cases of COVID-19. More than 5.7 lakh people have died so far. India has so far recorded 8,82,962 cases which include 23,246 deaths. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, and Gujarat have reported the highest number of cases.

It is now hard to imagine a world that isn’t permanently changed by coronavirus disease (COVID-19). We don’t know whether this is an event like 9/11 or the 2008 global financial crises where life will mostly go back to the way it was or whether the institutions and practices of the future will transform in ways that we can’t yet imagine. The success of the world’s scientists along with strong political and social leadership will determine which scenario unfolds, so it is time to focus on what we can all do to help.

As for the scientific community who are not working on the virus we know well that other major problems still exist such as climate change etc. In many ways, COVID-19 is perfectly suited to a big science approach as it requires multilateral collaboration on an unprecedented scale. In the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, everyone must win.

Recently, the WHO(World Health Organization) came up with a statement regarding airborne transmission and aerosol transmission which has now become one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19. What do we mean by a virus to be airborne? For a virus to be airborne means that it can be carried through the air in a viable form. The term airborne is referred to as the transmission of pathogens through aerosols. The aerosols are tiny respiratory droplets that remain suspended in the air and are comparatively smaller than the large droplets that fall on the ground when someone sneezes or coughs. Aerosols are droplets and they do not differ except in size. From the start of the pandemic, the WHO and other public health organizations have focussed on the virus’s ability to spread through large droplets that are expelled when an asymptomatic person coughs or sneezes.

On 7th July, an International Research Meeting was held between all the scientific research experts aiming particularly, on the airborne disease, where Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 Pandemic at the WHO have mentioned about the existence of airborne transmission understanding the virus that is needed in this particular root of transmission that is aerosol or airborne transmission. Aerosols are smaller they contain much less virus than droplets do. As they are lighter, they can linger in the air for hours, especially in the absence of fresh air. In a crowded indoor space, a single infected person can release enough aerosolized virus over time to infect many people, perhaps seeding a super spreader event.

Ms. Van Kerkhove said, “A comprehensive package of interventions is required to be able to stop transmission.” The possibility of Airborne transmission in a public setting, especially in very specific crowded that have been described cannot be ruled out.

Ms. Kerkhove also mentioned that the WHO would publish a scientific brief summarising the state of knowledge on modes of transmission of the virus in the coming days. Any change in the WHO panel assessing the evidence on airborne transmission was not scientifically diverse and lacked representation from experts in aerosol transmission. It could also affect its current advice on keeping 1 meter of physical distancing. Regarding the measures taken into consideration – avoiding poorly ventilated and close settings, crowded situations, maintaining physical distancing, use of masks in appropriate settings, specifically where we can’t do physical distancing and especially for healthcare workers.

This is an unprecedented situation for many of us across the world. The fact that several mobile health, diagnostics, and remote health start-up and companies are able to respond during an epidemic is encouraging. With tens of thousands of deaths already because of the coronavirus, we expect to see numerous new companies offering technology-driven solutions to help doctors, nurses, other health workers, and the larger public. The WHO urges all health authorities to test, detect, trace, and isolate those found to have contacted the coronavirus. Home testing and diagnostic kits are essential to slow the spread of the virus.

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Airborne or Aerosol – Are we fighting wrong way against Covid-19?

By: Ankita Biswas Read time: 13 min