The World Health Organization on Tuesday acknowledged the emerging evidence of airborne spread of the novel coronavirus after an open letter by over 200 scientists outlined evidence that showed floating virus particles can infect people who breathe them in.
Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on the COVID-19 pandemic at the WHO, told a news briefing that “We have been talking about the possibility of airborne transmission and aerosol transmission as one of the modes of transmission of COVID-19,”
WHO has said it before that the COVID-19 diseases spreads through small droplets that expelled from nose from the nose and mouth of an infected person that quickly sink to the ground.
On Monday, an open letter to the medical community by 239 scientists published in the Clincal Infectious Diseases journal, urged the medical community, as well as national and international bodies to recognize the potential for airborne spread of covid-19.
The letter showed evidence that microdroplets and virus particles released by infected patients, during exhalation, talking, and coughing are small enough to remain in the air and pose a risk of exposure at up to 2 metres distance.
The open letter said that “There is significant potential for inhalation exposure to viruses in microscopic respiratory droplets (microdroplets) at short to medium distances (up to several meters, or room scale), and we are advocating for the use of preventive measures to mitigate this route of airborne transmission,”
A chemist at the University of Colorado Jose Jimenez said “We wanted them to acknowledge the evidence,”
Jose Jimenez said in a telephone interview “This is definitely not an attack on the WHO. It’s a scientific debate, but we felt we needed to go public because they were refusing to hear the evidence after many conversations with them,”
Benedetta Allegranzi the WHO’s technical lead for infection prevention and control, on Tuesday said there was evidence emerging of airborne transmission of the coronavirus, but that it was not definitive.
She added “…The possibility of airborne transmission in public settings – especially in very specific conditions, crowded, closed, poorly ventilated settings that have been described, cannot be ruled out however, the evidence needs to be gathered and interpreted, and we continue to support this.”
So far, the Geneva-based agency as well as various other medical bodies encouraged people to regularly wash hands, maintain social distance, and precautions against coming in contact with droplets. They did not recognize airborne transmission of the SARS-COV2, except for aerosol-generating procedures performed in healthcare settings.
The WHO would publish a scientific brief summarising the state of knowledge on modes of transmission of the virus in the coming days said Van Kerkhove.
Van Kerkhove said “A comprehensive package of interventions is required to be able to stop transmission,”
She added “This includes not only physical distancing, it includes the use of masks where appropriate in certain settings, specifically where you can’t do physical distancing and especially for healthcare workers.”
– Davinder Panesar, NMTV News