The novel coronavirus has been found on air pollution particles by scientists who are studying if this could allow the virus to advance longer distances, resulting in more number of people contracting.
The work is still in the initial phase, and it is not yet been ascertained if the virus can survive on pollution particles and in sufficient amount to actually cause the infection.
The Italian scientists employed standard techniques to procure outdoor air pollution samples at one urban and one industrial location in Bergamo province. They recognised a gene particular to Covid-19 in several samples and this identification was established through blind testing at an independent laboratory.
Leonardo Setti at the University of Bologna in Italy, who spearheaded the study, said it was imperative to investigate if the virus could be transported through air pollution.
“I am a scientist and I am worried when I don’t know,” he told The Guardian.“If we know, we can find a solution. But if we don’t know, we can only suffer the consequences,” he added.
Besides this, two other research groups have indicated that air pollution particles could allow coronavirus to advance in the air.
A statistical study by Setti’s team indicates that higher pollution levels of particle pollution could describe the higher rates of infection in areas of northern Italy before a strict lockdown was put in place. Notably, this is one of the most polluted parts of Europe.
The studies undertaken by Setti’s team have not been peer-reviewed and thus have not received the backing of independent scientists. However, experts concur that the theory is possible and merits an investigation.
Earlier studies have also revealed that particles of air pollution do hold on to microbes and that pollution probably carried other viruses causing bird flu, measles, etc. over long distances.
The possibility of air pollution particles transporting viruses is connected with an overarching query about how the novel coronavirus is spread. Big virus-filled droplets from infected people’s coughs and sneezes may collapse within a few metre’s distance. Smaller droplets, however, those less than 5 microns in diameter, could remain suspended in the air for minutes and even hours and advance further, the Guardian report said.
Experts are unsure if these small airborne droplets can indeed cause Covid-19 infections, but they are aware of how the 2003 SARS coronavirus was transmitted through air.
Scientists say the possibility of airborne transmission, and the role of pollution particles, should not be dismissed without proof. Prof Jonathan Reid at Bristol University in the UK is studying airborne transmission of coronavirus told the Guardian: “It is perhaps not surprising that while suspended in air, the small droplets could combine with background urban particles and be carried around.”
He added that the virus had been found in small droplets collected indoors in China.