Preliminary results find evidence of the novel coronavirus on air pollution over Bergamo, Italy.
Coronavirus has been detected on particles of air pollution by scientists investigating whether this could enable it to be carried over longer distances and increase the number of people infected.
The work is preliminary and it is not yet known if the virus remains viable on pollution particles and in sufficient quantity to cause disease.
The Italian scientists used standard techniques to collect outdoor air pollution samples at one urban and one industrial site in Bergamo province and identified a gene highly specific to Covid-19 in multiple samples. Bergamo is one of Italy’s most polluted provinces.
The detection was confirmed by blind testing at an independent laboratory.
An independent laboratory confirmed the gene detection by blind testing, The Guardian reported.
Separate research groups have suggested pollution particles may carry the coronavirus particles farther.
The work was led by Leonardo Setti, an industrial chemist at the University of Bologna.
He said it’s important now to investigate whether the coronavirus can be carried more widely by air pollution.
“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.”
The potential role of air pollution particles is linked to the broader question of how the coronavirus is transmitted.
Large virus-laden droplets from infected people’s coughs and sneezes fall to the ground within a metre or two.
But much smaller droplets, less than 5 microns in diameter, can remain in the air for minutes to hours and travel further.
Experts are not sure whether these tiny airborne droplets can cause coronavirus infections, though they know the 2003 Sars coronavirus was spread in the air and that the new virus can remain viable for hours in tiny droplets.
Jonathan Reid, a Bristol University professor researching airborne transmission of coronavirus, told The Guardian, “It is perhaps not surprising that while suspended in air, the small droplets could combine with background urban particles and be carried around.”
Earlier studies have found that people exposed to higher levels of air pollution were more likely to die from COVID-19.
Italy still remains the third most affected country in the world from coronavirus.
So far the number of cases stands at 192,994 with over 25,000 of those resulted in death.
The number of new daily cases continues to fall as the country enters its fourth month dealing with the pandemic.