Is COVID-19 airborne? CSIR to conduct study

The study needs to be conducted by taking air sample in the first place

Unlike viruses, bacteria are living entities, and are capable of self-replicating inside the host body. Photo: iStock

After the World Health Organisation’s recent acknowledgement that there is emerging evidence of airborne spread of the novel coronavirus, the entire scientific community has started looking at the mode of transmission of coronavirus with a different perspective.

Institute of Microbial Technology (IMTECH) in Chandigarh and Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) in Hyderabad, two labs under the CSIR are gearing up to conduct a study to ascertain whether coronavirus really transmits through air.

The study needs to be conducted by taking air sample in the first place.  “We are in talks with the state governments to allow us to go to some of the areas where there is possibility of virus, we can look for hospital ICUs, isolation centres or public transports” said Dr. Sanjeev Khosla, Director, IMTECH, Chandigarh.

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The air sampling is done through specialised machines. These have a suction pump that draw air. The air sample goes through a filter at the end of the instrument. The filter traps the airborne micro-organisms.  “We will be taking in some amount of air from a particular area based on calculations that we would do that how far these air droplets can move and then try to see whether these air droplets have the virus and how far we can detect them,” said Dr. Khosla. To ensure that the machine doesn’t get contaminated the filters and the suction pump are cleaned up after every collection. The machines are patented devices and are being used to trap other micro-organisms too.

Once the sampling is done it would be analysed for presence of various pathogens including coronavirus. “But sampling may take time, as one has to repeat the experiments as contamination need to be taken care of” said Dr. Khosla.

Dr. Shekhar C. Mande, Director General of Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (DG-CSIR), recently said in a blog post, “Airborne transmission of COVID possible, wear masks in enclosed spaces”.

When we sneeze, cough, talk or sing, tiny droplets are sprayed from our mouth. Some of the droplets, which are bigger drop to the ground like a ball thrown from a height. These larger droplets then settle on the surfaces. If the person is infected then inhalation of the droplets or touching the droplets on the surface by others can transmit the virus.

Similar to how a feather lifted up by air currents stays longer in the air, smaller droplets remain suspended in the air for quite a while.  If people at crowded places come in contact with these droplets there exists a threat of spread through these small droplets.

The virus laden droplets is unlikely in an open park, or a public road. However, in enclosed spaces, an infected person can leave a trail of small droplets with virus suspended in the air.

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