Study shows that “Covid-19 is transmitted via the air”

Researchers from Erasmus MC in Rotterdam have scientifically demonstrated by ferret research that the Covid-19 virus is airborne. “Here, we show that SARS-CoV-2 is transmitted efficiently via direct contact and via the air (via respiratory droplets and/or aerosols) between ferrets.” This is the first proof that social distancing is necessary, says molecular virologist Sander Autumn of Erasmus MC.

It was already assumed worldwide that the coronavirus was not only transmitted through direct (human-to-human) or indirect (for example through a door handle) contact, but also through the air.

But it was not yet proven, says Autumn. It turns a presumption into a scientifically substantiated fact. Also, it is sometimes useful to be provided with proof that we are all doing well, the researcher refers to the social distancing measures that have affected many countries, such as keeping 1, 5 meters away.

Study shows that “Covid-19 is transmitted via the air”
Ferret (for illustration)

“This study provides experimental evidence of robust transmission of SARS-CoV-2 via the air, supporting the implementation of community-level social distancing measures currently applied in many countries in the world and informing decisions on infection control measures in healthcare settings.”

Infected ferrets

Erasmus MC used ferrets for the study, which appear to be susceptible to infection with Covid-19. At the time of the animal research in the laboratory, it was not yet known that corona had broken out in animals at two mink farms in Brabant. Minks and ferrets both belong to the family of mustelids.

Ferrets that were brought into direct contact with an infected species of sorts quickly became infected with corona, says Autumn. Ferrets that were kept at least four inches apart took a few days, but eventually, they too became infected. “In both cases, it leads to a robust respiratory tract infection in the recipient animals,” said Autumn.

Infection with an airborne respiratory virus can happen in two ways.

  • Firstly, through droplets (such as by sneezing and coughing), in which the virus particles already descend within one meter of the spreader by gravity.
  • The second option is small aerosols, which can float in the air for a long time and can even be inhaled hours later by another person, who can then be infected.

Follow-up studies

According to Dutch news site AD, whether airborne transmission of the coronavirus takes place via droplets, aerosols, or both, the Rotterdam researchers do not yet know. “In follow-up studies, we will, therefore, further investigate whether the airborne transmission is also possible over greater distances, and thus only via aerosols.”

Erasmus MC’s research has not yet been peer-reviewed. Autumn, however, states that the findings are very reliable.

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