WHO issues new guidelines for Airborne transmission of COVID-19: Here’s what you can do to stay safe
New Delhi: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday issued new guidelines on the transmission of the novel coronavirus acknowledging some reports of airborne spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19. In an updated scientific brief on COVID-19 transmission, the UN health agency said airborne spread of coronavirus can occur in health care settings where specific medical procedures generate very small droplets – aerosols. However, WHO said that more research is urgently required to elucidate the importance of different transmission routes of the virus.
The guidelines stated that understanding how, when and in what types of settings the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreads between people is critical for developing effective public health and infection prevention measures to break chains of transmission. WHO said current evidence suggests that COVID-19 transmission occurs primarily through direct, indirect, or close contact with infected individuals through their saliva and respiratory secretions, or through their respiratory droplets expelled when they cough, sneeze, talk or sing. The agency also said that asymptomatic people can also spread the virus to others, although it is still unclear to what extent this occurs and more research is needed in this area.
WHO stressed that high-quality research is urgently needed to understand the role of airborne spread of the SARS-CoV-2 in the absence of aerosol-generating procedures, the dose of virus required for transmission to occur, the settings and risk factors for superspreading events, as well as the extent of asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic transmission. In this article, let us tell you how airborne transmission is different from droplet transmission and what you can do to stay safe from respiratory infections such as COVID-19.
What’s the difference between airborne and droplet transmission?
Airborne transmission is different from droplet transmission. It tends to refer to the presence of microbes within droplet nuclei, which are generally considered to be particles <5μm in diameter.
“Airborne and droplet are two descriptions of one phenomenon. Microorganism that is less than 5 micrometers is called airborne and more than 5 micrometers is called droplet. Any person who has any bacterial, mycobacterial (TB and TB family) or viral respiratory infection – the disease can spread through the uncovered cough and sneeze of such person to others. Airborne material can travel up to 6-9 feet and droplets settle on some surfaces. The bacteria or virus can remain viable on surfaces for a few minutes to a few hours. If we touch such a surface and then touch our face/nose/mouth then there are chances that it may enter our respiratory system,” said Dr Samir Garde, Pulmonologist, Global Hospital, Mumbai.
Dr Garde further added that if anybody coughs or sneezes in front of others without covering it, then the material can enter the respiratory system – this is called getting infected. Getting infected and getting the disease are two different t things. Even if bacteria or viruses enter our respiratory tract, our immune system fights with it and kills them. So everyone may get infected but may not suffer from the disease. Depending on the type of illness – bacterial or viral – the doctors diagnose and treat the condition.
What you can do to prevent contracting respiratory infections
- In the current scenario, it’s always best to wear a mask while venturing out in crowded areas to keep respiratory infections away.
- Try to keep at least 3 feet physical distance and wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Do not touch your face unnecessarily.
- Practice respiratory etiquette.
- Avoid crowded places, close-contact settings and confined and enclosed spaces with poor ventilation.
- Ensure appropriate environmental cleaning and disinfection.
- To maintain immunity, opt for Indian square meal and exercises like Surya Namaskar and Pranayam or any other cardiorespiratory fitness regimen. It can help your cardio-respiratory fitness and lowers blood pressure as well. Moreover, it also increases cardio-respiratory efficiency and respiratory capacity.
To prevent transmission, WHO recommends identifying suspect cases as quickly as possible, testing, and isolating all cases (infected people) in appropriate facilities.