Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Tiny dust particles could help spread viruses like the flu

Some researchers say they deserve as much attention as aerosolized droplets.

We're all surrounded by personal clouds of dust and debris smaller than the eye can see.Pexels

By Kat Eschner

Scientists have debated the role of droplets both large and small in the transmission of SARS-CoV-2 since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. But findings published this week in the journal Nature Communications suggest that researchers who study airborne viruses like SARS-CoV-2 and influenza need to look more closely at the role of another tiny vector: microscopic dust.

 “Our data very clearly shows that [microscopic particles in the air] can transmit the flu,” says study author William Ristenpart, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Davis.

These particles, properly known as “aerosolized fomites,” are composed of everything from skin and poop to microscopic fragments of tissue or (in the case of guinea pigs, who were the model animal used in the research) cage sawdust. Viruses can hitch a ride and sail through the air toward uninfected beings, just like they do in the tiny aerosolized moisture droplets that leave our mouths and noses when we speak or sneeze.

This much was known previously, but until now, there was very little data on whether those viral tag-alongs played a role in infecting new hosts, Ristenpart says. Studies of the role of aerosols in disease transmission have focused on the tiny droplets that leave animal bodies, rather than on the dust in our environment.  Read more >>