Italian researchers found traces of coronavirus in airborne particles. They now want to find out whether air pollution enables the virus to spread better and travel greater distances.
Air pollution is a real scourge to our health. It would be all the more so if it were to promote the circulation of the corona virus over long distances and contaminate a large number of individuals. That is what researchers are trying to find out. In a study published on the MedRxiv portal on 24 April and broadcast by the British newspaper The Guardian, Italian scientists revealed the presence of coronavirus in air pollution particles.
A highly specific coronavirus gene in samples of polluted air
In this study the researchers presented the first results of the analysis. To identify the corona virus in fine contaminated particles, Italian scientists collected 34 contaminated air samples over an uninterrupted period of three weeks, from 21 February to 13 March, from an industrial plant in the province of Bergamo in Lombardy, which was severely affected by Covid-19, and took them using two different air samplers.
“We confirm that we have reasonably detected the presence of the viral RNA (molecule) SARS-CoV-2 by detecting the highly specific RtDR gene in 8 filters in two parallel PCR analyses. This is the first preliminary evidence that SARS-CoV-2 RNA could be present in external particles, suggesting that SARS-CoV-2 could form clusters with external particles under conditions of atmospheric stability and high particle concentrations, and increase the persistence of the virus in the atmosphere by reducing its diffusion coefficient,” the study said.
Coronavirus in polluted air particles: “No assumptions can be made
The study notes that further confirmation of this preliminary evidence is underway, “and should include a real-time assessment of the vitality of SARS CoV-2 and its virulence when adsorbed in particles. At present, no assumptions can be made about the relationship between the presence of the virus in particles and the progression of Covid-19.
“I am a scientist and I worry if I don’t know,” Leonardo Setti of the University of Bologna in Italy, who led the work, told the British newspaper. “If we know, we can find a solution. But if we don’t know, we can only bear the consequences.”
The Guardian points out that the possibility of air transmission favored by pollution has already been the subject of two other scientific studies by two other research groups. Both studies also proved the presence of the virus in polluted fine particles. In addition, previous studies have shown that airborne particles harbor microbes and that pollution may have transported the viruses responsible for avian flu or measles over considerable distances.