Scientists have detected the deadly coronavirus on particles of air pollution, suggesting it could spread even farther than previously thought, increasing the number of people infected.
Leonardo Setti, a scientist from the University of Bologna in Italy, presented his findings after collecting outdoor air pollution samples from two areas in Bergamo province. One sample was from an urban area and another from an industrial site. The samples collected both contained a gene highly specific to COVID-19.
Setti stressed the importance of investigating these results further to find out if the virus could be carried more widely by air pollution than previously thought, according to The Guardian.
"I am a scientist, and I am worried when I don't know," he said. "If we know, we can find a solution. But if we don't know, we can only suffer the consequences."
Other studies published in Genome Biology revealed viruses that caused the bird flu, measles and foot-and-mouth disease were transported by pollution and able to travel long distances. The 2003 SARS virus was also spread in the air, The Guardian reported, and research has already shown the current coronavirus can remain viable in the air for hours in the form of tiny droplets.
"It is perhaps not surprising that while suspended in air, small droplets could combine with background urban particles and be carried around," Professor Jonathan Reid at Bristol University in the U.K., told The Guardian.
Setti theorized, when the droplets merge with air pollution particles they can remain buoyed in the air much longer allowing them to be transported from one place to another.
"The pollution particle is like a micro-airplane and the passengers are the droplets," he told The Guardian, adding this could explain why there were higher rates of COVID-19 infection in northern Italy, a region which is one of the most polluted in Europe.
Other research has shown a direct correlation between COVID-19 deaths and higher levels of air pollution even before the pandemic. Long-term exposure to polluted air damages the lungs, making people more vulnerable to the disease, The Guardian reported, and leads to significantly higher rates of death.
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