People infected with COVID-19 may spread the disease when they simply speak or breathe — not just when they cough or sneeze, experts say.
This could explain why those who have no symptoms can transmit the disease.
"There's a possibility" that COVID-19 spreads by tiny particles known as aerosols, which can be emitted when people speak, William Ristenpart, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Davis, told Live Science.
The World Health Organization still states that COVID-19 spreads mostly through direct contact with people through respiratory droplets, especially with someone who has respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or sneezing.
However, Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist and head of the Climate and Health Program at Columbia University in New York, told Live Science that the tiny aerosols which are much smaller and lighter than respiratory droplets "can remain aloft for a considerable amount of time."
A study published in March in The New England Journal of Medicine stated that aerosolized coronavirus particles can live up to three hours in the air, meaning that they could infect people hours after being expelled. That means people should always observe strict social distancing and wear a mask in public.
"You have this issue where people are unwittingly spreading the virus around," said Shaman. According to Live Science, even homemade masks would disrupt the transmission of the particles.
"The basic idea that speech releases aerosol particles has been known for decades," Ristenpart said, adding that even in the medical community, many experts don't acknowledge this fact because aerosols are invisible to the naked eye. "When you sneeze you see a spray," he said. He added that research shows that the louder you speak, the more aerosol particles are generated.
Shaman added that until we know more about how these particles are spread in different environments, "the need is just to distance ourselves so we can get everything in order right now."
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