Scientists in Italy find coronavirus on air pollution particles

In preliminary study, researchers detect distinct virus genes on airborne pollutants, suggesting disease could travel farther by air than previously assumed

A worker sprays disinfectant to sanitize Duomo square in downtown Milan, Italy, March 31, 2020. (AP/Luca Bruno)
A worker sprays disinfectant to sanitize Duomo square in downtown Milan, Italy, March 31, 2020. (AP/Luca Bruno)

In a preliminary study, scientists in Italy detected the coronavirus on particles of air pollution.

It is still unclear whether the virus is viable or able to cause infections when carried by pollution, according to The Guardian, which first publicized the findings on Friday.

The study has not yet been peer-reviewed, but previous studies and experts suggest the premise could be valid, and should be researched further.

If true, the virus could travel farther by air than previously assumed. It could also explain the high rate of infection in heavily polluted northern Italy.

Italy has been hard hit by the pandemic, especially its northern region. The country has confirmed over 192,000 infections and nearly 26,000 deaths.

The research was headed by Leonardo Setti from Italy’s University of Bologna. The research team detected a distinct COVID-19 gene on air pollution samples taken from an urban site, and an industrial site, in Bergamo province, near Milan.

The finding was backed up by a testing procedure at a separate, independent laboratory.

Other research has showed that air pollution can carry microbes, and that airborne pollution particles probably carried other viruses, including those that cause bird flu, measles and foot and mouth disease, The Guardian reported.

The coronavirus circulates through droplets in the air spread by coughing or sneezing, and enters the body through the mouth, eyes or nose. It can remain viable on surfaces for hours to days, and may be able to enter the lungs directly when inhaled.

Larger droplets carrying the virus land within two meters of the carrier, but smaller droplets can linger in the air for longer, and move farther. It is unclear whether the smaller droplets can cause infections.

The coronavirus pandemic has infected over 2.7 million, and killed over 195,000 as of Friday night.

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