COVID-19, the infectious disease triggered by SARS-CoV-2, a novel strain of the coronavirus, is continuing to spread at an alarming pace in several nations worldwide. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared it a pandemic on March 11, 2020 and even after 4 months, this lethal illness is showing no signs of slowing down.
As of today, in India, this deadly respiratory illness has infected more than 11 lakh people, claiming over 28,000 lives so far and many more cases are being reported with each passing day.
The rise in the incidence of COVID-19 infection, coupled with the variations in symptoms and complications displayed by patients, ranging from mild fever to hypoxia, has naturally sparked a wave of fear, uncertainty and confusion among the general public. Also Read: Happy Hypoxia: Decoding The Mystery Behind Why Oxygen Levels Decline In COVID-19 Patients
Consolidating all the emerging evidence available thus far on how COVID-19 is dispersed amongst communities, the chief of one of India’s premier institutions, the Council Of Scientific And Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr. Shekhar C. Mande, on July 21 stated that, “indeed airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is a distinct possibility”. He also strongly advised individuals “to wear masks even in enclosed locations” and follow all necessary safety precautions of social distancing and handwashing. Also Check Out: Coronavirus Kit: Did You Pack All These Must-Haves To Combat COVID-19? – Infographic
At the global level too, a group of 239 scientists hailing from 32 different countries, on July 6 published experimental evidence titled, “It is Time to Address Airborne Transmission of COVID-19”. This review mentions scenarios in which viral particles suspended in air, known as aerosols, can also give rise to coronavirus infection, besides droplets carrying SARS-CoV-2 and other objects containing microbe residues, such as tables, doorknobs etc.
Furthermore, these researchers emphasized an “appeal to the medical community and to the relevant national and international bodies to recognize the potential for airborne spread of COVID-19”.
In response to this scientific development, experts at the WHO, the world’s foremost international association for all health and disease-related concerns, released, on July 9, an updated version of its official statement on, “Modes Of Transmission Of Virus Causing COVID-19: Implications For Infection Prevention And Control (IPC) Precaution Recommendations”.
The report reads, “Airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2 can occur during medical procedures that generate aerosols (“aerosol-generating procedures”). WHO, together with the scientific community, has been actively discussing and evaluating whether SARS-CoV-2 may also spread through aerosols in the absence of aerosol-generating procedures, particularly in indoor settings with poor ventilation.”
According to WHO, some examples of aerosol-generating procedures in a controlled medical environment or a hospital setting include endotracheal intubation, bronchoscopy, open suctioning, administration of nebulized treatment, manual ventilation before intubation, turning the patient to the prone position, disconnecting the patient from the ventilator, non-invasive positive-pressure ventilation, tracheostomy and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
However, with regards to confirming airborne transmission of COVID-19 in non-clinical surroundings, the WHO has concluded that experiments conducted so far do not reflect the customary travel, work or home environs seen in normal life. The health professionals concurred that further research is required, to conclude the high probability of airborne COVID-19 transmission, in daily living circumstances.
To allay all sense of worry, stress, tension, it is important to understand exactly what the terminologies associated with the spread of COVID-19 infection, such as a droplet, aerosol and fomite mean, for an accurate insight into this highly contagious ailment.
Read on, to know more.
Modes Of Transmission Of COVID-19:
The primary way by which people acquire coronavirus disease and the most common means of virus spread according to the WHO is through respiratory droplets.
When a healthy individual comes in direct, indirect or very close contact with a person infected by COVID-19, they tend to come across the air released by the sick patient, via their mouth, nose or eyes, whilst the latter is talking, singing, coughing or sneezing. In this interval, droplets in the size range of 5-10 um in diameter, carrying SARS-CoV-2 viral material, are expelled, which are invariably absorbed by the healthy person.
Avoid coming in close contact with people who have tested positive for COVID-19 as much as possible. If any family members have a mild infection and are in home quarantine, then always wear a face mask when interacting with them and do not engage in any form of personal touch, such as shaking hands, patting the back or hugging. Doctors, nurses and all other healthcare providers must be in full PPE (personal protective equipment) when handling COVID-19 patients or their blood samples.
When viral substances are ejected from a person afflicted by COVID-19, they most likely fall on a nearby inanimate object, such as a doorknob, bottle, table, book, phone, computer or even currency notes.
These virus-infected surfaces are termed as fomites, with evidence that SARS-CoV-2 particles can sustain on them for anywhere between few hours to several days, depending upon the surrounding temperature and humidity. When a healthy individual touches or holds any of these infected materials long enough to contract the still active coronavirus particles, they also acquire COVID-19 in their system, while touching their eyes, nose or mouth.
Make sure to use an alcohol-based sanitizer at all times and wash your hands thoroughly with a good quality handwash for at least 30 seconds. Steer clear of touching any objects that may have been held by a COVID-19 infected person. Thoroughly wash bags, clothes after returning home and disinfect surfaces entirely. Do not forget to wear masks. If you are wearing a single-use mask, discard it properly.
SARS-CoV-2 viral particles, when eliminated from an affected individual, also possess the ability to remain suspended in the air, within bounded accommodations, in the form of aerosols, sometimes also called droplet nuclei.
These are comparatively smaller in size to droplets, being less than 5 um in diameter and can remain potently infectious over long distances and for extended time periods.
Although aerosols are only viewed as a minor possible means of disease spread, medical experts recommend wearing face masks even in closed, windowless locales, such as air-conditioned offices, public transportation and confined restaurants. Keep in mind to use a waterless alcohol-based sanitizer while travelling or at work, after coming in contact with other people or surfaces. Regular handwashing before stepping out and after returning home will help curb the spread of COVID-19 in households.